Tozen Berlitz Teachers Protest in Yurakucho 東ゼン労組ベルリッツ講師が有楽町で抗議行動


On November 3, 2021, Berlitz teachers belonging to Tozen Union’s Begunto local, gathered in front of Berlitz Japan’s Yurakucho Language Center to demand the school reinstate wrongly terminated member Matt. They passed out over 100 leaflets to students and passersby, informing them of the union’s demand.

The corona pandemic has hurt Berlitz’ earnings, leading the company to offer voluntary early retirement packages and apply for government job-security assistance. The aid is premised on the company not laying off employees. Yet, the school has used the precarious employment of fixed-term contracts as a way to do what one member called, “back-door layoffs.”

In ordinary times, Berlitz automatically renews teachers’ one-year contracts, unless there is a major issue with a particular teacher. Now, the company has lowered the bar for non-renewals, taking away the job security teachers had enjoyed for decades.

The union is committed to fighting until the company reinstate our member Matt and to restoring job security for all Berlitz employees.






Begunto Leafleting Action ベグントのビラ配り

On Saturday 25th September 2021, Tozen’s local, Begunto held a leafleting action in Nihonbashi.

Begunto recently entered into a dispute, and members are fighting for the reinstatement of our member Matt Wiegand.


最近、ベグント支部は労働紛争に入って、 マット組合員の復職を求めて闘っている。


Begunto returns to striking for the first time in 13 years!

From the Begunto Website:
On September 14th Begunto entered dispute after weeks of negotiations that went nowhere. On September 16th we had our first striking member. The purpose of the strike is to realize the Union’s demand that our member, Matthew Wiegand, be reinstated in his job. We aim to protect members against unfair dismissals.

A message from Tozen Union President, Okunuki Hifumi, (16 September 2021):

Today, 13 years after its founding and now part of Tozen Union, our local Begunto has begun a new fight – this time not for more money but rather to protect the job of one of our members.  At 7:40 pm this evening, our member Yancey walked off the job – on strike to push Berlitz management to reinstate our member Matt Wiegand.

Begunto (Berlitz General Union Tokyo)  has a history going back to 1994, the year of its founding (then part of NUGW Tokyo Nambu).  Over the next 27 years, Begunto has blazed a wide trail for language teachers in Japan, with enormous victories that changed the language school industry. In 2007, the  union launched an intense, twelve-month strike to raise wages across the board by 4.6%, something unheard of among any teacher unions, let alone one with mostly foreign teachers. Berlitz Japan made two offers, but Begunto rejected them as too little.  (See the wikipedia entry for this historic strike)

This fight is Tozen Union’s fight as much as Begunto’s fight. We will fight together to protect all our members’  job from reckless firings like this one.  We will update you on events that all Tozen members can join to help us win.

In solidarity,
Hifumi Okunuki
Tozen Union Executive President

Tozen Welcomes Begunto

Tozen Union would like to welcome Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto), who recently voted to join us. Begunto has a long, illustrious history as a fighting union  going back a quarter century. It is an honor to count them now among our ranks.


Begunto, the Berlitz union.


If you work for Berlitz and have any questions at all, feel free to contact Begunto here.

Job-Juggling in Japan: A Risky Stunt with No Safety Net

Mid-April 2009. Tokyo.

Teaching English part-time at Berlitz Japan. Teaching English writing part-time at NHK Bilingual Center. Translating freelance for NHK. Translating part-time at the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Executive president of Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto). Working part-time as a union organizer at the National Union of General Workers. Covering for a hospitalized full-time organizer at the same union. Working as an intern at Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (Ijuren) in the hope of getting hired there.

The above is a list of jobs, both paid and unpaid, that my activist friend Catherine Campbell worked simultaneously back in mid-April 2009. How could she possibly have held down so many jobs without collapsing under the pressure?

Read more

A World Without Labor Unions; in unions’ defense

Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012
A world without labor unions

Re: “The Berlitz labor cartel” (Have Your Say, Sept. 25), a response to “With Berlitz beaten but not bowed, union fights on” by Patrick Budmar (Zeit Gist, Sept. 4):

The writer of this is someone who has withheld their name for good reason. Everything he or she wrote is spot off.

The suggestion that the union “chose to hold the company hostage rather than to leave and find a better offer” displays a misunderstanding of unions’ role in the workplace and in society.

A union is the only way for both parties (employers and employees) to negotiate on equal standing. If there were no unions, what would be the result?

We need not imagine. Let’s take a look at history, before unions fought for us. There was no minimum wage, no pension, no insurance, long hours, and brutal child labor was the norm. Those children were “free to work somewhere else,” as the author says.

It was the union movement that won us a minimum wage, pensions, health care, labor rights (including the right to strike) and abolished child labor. It is the right of the people to form unions and negotiate collectively with their employers. Their fight helps all of us, not just their coworkers.

The author calls it “the Berlitz labor cartel” but missed the fact that firms operate as cartels on many occasions. Consider price-fixing among automakers in Japan. NTN Corp. ( was found guilty of price-fixing. Toshiba recently paid $30 million to settle a price-fixing suit in the U.S. This is cartel behavior, not collectively demanding a pay increase and open-ended employment.

All workers have the right to strike. If midway through a meal, the waiter took my food and asked me to pay more, I would inform him that it’s management that sets prices, not customers. Also, strikers do not get paid during the period they are striking, so the analogy is false.

If my waiter went on strike, I would happily miss my meal in order to join them in asking management to increase prices so the workers are better paid.

Executive President, Tozen (Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union) ALTs Union

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Berlitz court ruling unequivocal on basic right to strike

Language school firm will appeal decision

After hearing more than three years of testimony, the judge took only a minute to read the court’s verdict rejecting Berlitz Japan’s ¥110 million lawsuit against striking teachers and their union and reaffirming organized labor’s right to take industrial action.

According to the Feb. 27 Tokyo District Court ruling, “There is no reason to deny the legitimacy of the strike in its entirety and the details of its parts — the objective, the procedures, and the form of the strike. Therefore there can be no compensation claim against the defendant, either the union or the individuals. And therefore it is the judgement of this court that all claims are rejected.”

The battle of Berlitz began on Dec. 13, 2007, when teachers belonging to the Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto) launched a strike against Berlitz Japan. The teachers, who had gone without an across-the-board raise for 16 years, struck for a 4.6 percent pay hike, a one-off one-month bonus and enrolment in Japan’s health insurance and pension system.

The strike grew into the largest sustained industrial action in the history of Japan’s language school industry. Over 11 months, teachers of English, Spanish and French struck 3,455 lessons in walkouts across Kanto.

In November 2008, Begunto filed an unfair labor practices suit at the Tokyo Labor Commission. The union alleges Berlitz Japan bargained in bad faith and illegally interfered with the strike by sending a letter to teachers telling them to stop walking out.

On Dec. 3, 2008, Berlitz Japan, claiming the strike to be illegal, sued for ¥110 million in damages. Named in the suit were the five teachers volunteering as Begunto executives, as well as two union officials: the president of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, Yujiro Hiraga, and Louis Carlet, former NUGW case officer for Begunto and currently executive president of Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen).

Berlitz Japan claimed the union’s tactics of giving strike notice at the last minute and making it difficult for the company to bring in replacement teachers were illegal and designed to harm the company.

Begunto filed additional complaints against the company at the Tokyo Labor Commission in 2010 after Berlitz Japan dismissed two of the union executives named in the lawsuit. One teacher lost his job after he requested a leave of absence of more than a year in order to serve as a reservist in Afghanistan, the other after she requested an additional four months unpaid leave to recover from late-stage breast cancer.

Yumiko Akutsu, one of the union’s lawyers, told supporters after the verdict that the win was “a complete victory — on not one point did we lose, not one single point.”

Reading from the court’s ruling, she explained that the court found the objective of the strike to be legitimate because “the strike’s purpose was to realize the union demands they had clearly stated to management in 2007 and 2008.”

Because teachers had different work schedules at different language centers and often didn’t receive their schedules until 7 p.m. the night before working, the court also rejected the company’s claims that the last-minute notice given by teachers before striking lessons was illegal. “Strike notice just before the strike cannot be considered illegitimate”, the court ruled.

After the win, Carlet stressed the significance of the victory as an important defense of the right to take industrial action in Japan. “This is a very important victory for the right to strike,” he told union members. “I think people often forget how important the right to strike is. The right to strike was not granted us by governments or by management. Workers fought in many countries around the world and gave their blood, sweat and tears to win this right to strike.”

Hiraga also emphasized the significance of the win, telling union members, “I think what the verdict represents is that the company sued you for damages as a way to weaken the union and as an illegal union-busting tactic, and it was denied by the courts.” Calling it a triumph not only for Begunto and Nambu, Hiraga told supporters, “This is a victory for the entire labor movement in Japan.”

According to Akutsu, a victory by the company “would have had a huge impact and a huge chilling effect on people’s willingness to strike.”

Gerald McAlinn, a professor at Keio University Law School, said that because Article 28 of the Constitution guarantees the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, “Any decision by the court to the contrary would have been very strange and contrary to the fundamental rights of all workers in Japan.”

McAlinn emphasized three reasons for the importance of the case. First, “A ruling in favor of the company would have opened up an avenue for employers to circumvent the balance of power established by the labor union law.” He added that allowing employers to sue striking workers “would be a powerful weapon that could easily be used to chill the exercise of constitutional rights by workers all across Japan.”

The court’s ruling is also significant because of the somewhat unusual nature of the strike action. Unlike in a typical strike, where workers walk out en masse and stay out together, Berlitz instructors sometimes taught and sometimes downed chalk. Individual Begunto members struck individual classes in different language centers at different times, handing their strike notices over to management only a few minutes before the scheduled start of the lesson. This minimized the company’s ability to bring in replacement teachers and break the strike. According to McAlinn, “This case seems to legitimize the practice of refusing to work other than via the traditional all-out-together picket line strike.”

Finally, McAlinn believes the verdict matters because it was mostly foreign teachers in the dock. “The nationality of the defendants should not matter of course, but this decision makes this point clear,” he said.

The triumphant union executive members stress the need to move past legal confrontations and get back to negotiations with management. Hector Coke, Begunto president at the time of the strike and one of the teachers named in the lawsuit, told union members and supporters in a meeting after the verdict that it’s time to start negotiating and “build a better relationship with management. We should not be arrogant in the fact we won this case.”

Paul Kennedy, current Begunto president, echoed this point at a press conference after the verdict. “We look from this point forward to be able to negotiate with Berlitz Japan,” he told reporters. “This is a new start for both sides.”

However, Berlitz Japan didn’t wait long before deciding to continue the legal skirmish. Kennedy says he received notice that Berlitz Japan will appeal the verdict on Friday.

Michael Mullen, Berlitz Japan’s senior human resources manager, declined to comment on the case.

Berlitz Japan doesn’t necessarily have to submit new evidence in their appeal to the high court. “In my experience, the high court is not shy about reaching a decision different from that at the district court level if the judges see the facts or law differently,” said McAlinn. “Having said that, I would be surprised if the high court were to reach a different decision in this case.”

Meanwhile, Begunto and Berlitz Japan continue their legal battle at the Tokyo Labor Commission, buoyed by the district court victory.

“With this verdict,” says Carlet, “we will be in a very good position at the labor commission because the strikes were legal and that will make all the difference.”

However, legal experts don’t all share Carlet’s confidence. According to McAlinn, the verdict “shouldn’t have a direct impact on the union claims at the Tokyo Labor Commission” because “the two actions are governed by different laws and legal standards.”

Tadashi Hanami, former chair of the Central Labor Relations Commission and professor emeritus at Sophia University, agrees, explaining that the Tokyo Labor Commission “may take this verdict in consideration if it chooses so, but we can hardly predict whether it will do so or not because it’s not unusual that courts and commissions take completely different opinions.”

Union members also now face a large legal bill. “The general principle under Japanese law is for each side to pay their own court costs,” says McAlinn. Union members are now discussing ways to recover court costs from Berlitz Japan, says Kennedy.

Berlitz loses suit over union teacher strikes

The Tokyo District Court on Monday rejected a lawsuit filed by Berlitz Japan Inc. that sought damages from union executives and its teachers for waging strikes and causing substantial damage to the company.

Presiding Judge Hiroshi Watanabe sided with the labor union and its workers, saying acts by the defendants “do not comprise any illegality.”

“There is no reason to deny the legitimacy of the strikes,” including their purpose or process, the court ruled.

Berlitz, the plaintiff, filed the lawsuit in December 2008. The language school chain claimed executives of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, and affiliate Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto) — particularly five activist, non-Japanese Berlitz teachers — conducted illegal strikes for 11 months beginning in December 2007.

According to the plaintiffs, union activities including coordinated strikes and delay of written notice of strikes “put the company’s existence itself in peril.” The plaintiffs claimed that acts by the defendants affected 3,455 classes during the span and caused some of its students to leave the school.

The company had sought compensation of ¥110 million each from Nambu, Begunto, an executive from each group and the five Berlitz teachers. The strikes involved more than 100 unionized foreign teachers of the chain.

The defendants meanwhile had said their strikes were within their rights, after Berlitz in 2007 rejected their requests, including a demand for a 4.6 percent raise and a bonus payment equal to a month’s pay.

According to the defendants, teachers at Berlitz hadn’t won an across-the-board raise for over 16 years. They claimed the lawsuit violated their right to union activities and collective action.

While similar civil cases have often been settled out of court, the case saw an extended period of negotiations that ultimately ended without an agreement.

Defense lawyer Yukiko Akutsu, who criticized the plaintiffs for causing the case to drag on for over three years, called Monday’s ruling “a complete victory” for her clients.

While touching on the possibility that the plaintiffs may file an appeal, Akutsu told a meeting following the ruling that the court “recognized that each of the strikes was legitimate.”