On October 19, 2022, Adam Cleeve concluded an in-court settlement with Shane English School, thereby ending a seven-year labor dispute that included him getting fired twice.
Adam had joined Shane Corp. in 2015 and soon joined the Tozen Union Shane Workers Union, due to his belief that all employees should unionize. He became executive president the following year. His active and effective leadership of the strike to win job security for teachers galvanized Shane management to launch a campaign to get rid of this troublemaker.
Many employers hoping to sack a union leader look for performance issues. But students lauded Adam as a talented and reliable teacher, a fact management admitted. Shane had to find another way.
Adam’s daughter Luna was born in November 2016. When his wife found out she was expecting her first child, he took time off to be with her. Management used this chance to this leave by refusing to renew his one-year contract, claiming he had already taken his allotted discretionary paid leave days.
The company and the union had long fought over the number of annual paid leave (nenkyu) days employees had a right to take at their own discretion. The school insisted teachers give two months’ notice before taking any paid holiday, a condition labor law does not permit. Shane also had no required agreement with workers enabling the company to reduce the number of discretionary leave days available to teachers under Labor Standards Act (Article 39).
The law requires a written roshi kyotei agreement concluded with a democratically elected employee rep. Management rushed an election in Oct 2016 then appointed a lackey to affix their hanko personal seal to a backdated agreement.
The union rejected the article 39 agreement as invalid, and Adam took his full allotment of paid leave days. His wife expected a tough childbirth, so he wanted to see her through it, be by her side before and after. Management insisted the 39 deal was valid and accused Adam of staying out of work too long. Not only did Shane not pay for the days out, as required by law, the company notified Adam in January 2017 that his contract would not be renewed.
Adam had applied to take legally guaranteed childcare leave for the first year of his daughter’s life, which would have provided some wage coverage from the government’s unemployment insurance system as he raised Luna. But Shane made sure to sack him before he could finish the necessary application procedures. No job. No childcare support.
The union demanded immediate reinstatement, sued in the Tokyo Labor Commission, and hired Tozen Union Atty. Keiko Kato to overturn Adam’s firing in court. She believes that Shane already planned to non-renew Adam, even if he hadn’t taken time off to attend to his wife’s childbirth.
The cases lasted several years. An October 2019 court verdict ordered the school to take him back and pay all back wages (8.8 million yen) for the 2.5 years he had been out. Tokyo High Court dismissed the company’s paid leave system and thus the rationale for the contract non-renewal as invalid.
Adam went back to work with renewed vigor as a teacher and new purpose as a union activist. Management began to send him to several different schools, apparently to harass him, but Adam used the broader contact with coworkers to recruit more members to join the ongoing strike for job security, health and pension. Shane resumed attacking Adam for taking guaranteed paid leave and even issued warning letters.
The growing pressure from management led to insomnia, sleep apnea, and anxiety. His physician recommended four weeks rest but changed it later to two weeks after Adam made progress, regained his ability to sleep and was refreshed and ready to go back to work after just the fortnight. Shane wasn’t ready to let him back.
Management claimed it was “suspicious” that the four weeks required rest had turned into only two weeks rest. It was unclear what precisely would be the purpose of Adam or his physician in falsifying treatment options. Shane’s lawyer sent an official enquiry with a raft of probing questions to his doctor, based on Article 23.2(1) of the Attorneys Act: An attorney may request the bar association of which they hold a membership to make inquiries to public offices or public or private organizations so that they may provide information necessary for a case taken by the attorney.
The doctor refused to cooperate with the intrusion, so Shane demanded Adam see their own sangyoi company doctor. Eventually, both doctors agreed Adam was ready to go back to work.
But Shane insisted he start on fewer hours and sign a brand-new contract before coming back. Adam was on a full-time, permanent contract, but Shane insisted he sign a part-time, temporary, zero-hour “memorandum” (legally, a contract) as a condition of return. The school was demanding he throw away all job and income security because he had taken just two weeks off sick.
Adam rejected this dramatic degradation to his working conditions and insisted on returning immediately and on the same contract. Shane could easily and legally permit him to come back to work, even starting on shorter hours, without changing his employment contract.
Management continued to pay him partial wages for more than a year, then stopped paying his wages at all. On April 15, 2022, Shane fired him – for the second time, this time using his short period of sick leave against him. Shane even claimed Adam had harassed the company for insisting to return to work on the same contract. The union demanded reinstatement and all unpaid wages. He sued for the second time in Tokyo District Court.
Tokyo District Court proposed that the two sides finally settle this long-running feud rather than see the trial to the end. The judge conveyed to both sides’ lawyers that the dismissal had no chance to stand up in court and that without a settlement, Adam would be back at work with more back pay in his pocket.
The judge pushed Shane to accept Adam’s early offer of 11 million yen. The company came back with an offer of 10 million yen, after all taxes and deductions. This became the final deal.
And there’s more… Three months before this settlement, Shane fired yet another unionized teacher who had taken time off due to a family tragedy then refused to change his permanent, full-time contract to a part-time, temporary one that stipulated he could not challenge any possible firing. The union has demanded his reinstatement as well.
Looking Back and Forward
Adam had joined a union back in his native UK because he was “tired of being exploited.” He continued his union activism to fight for workers’ and union rights and “I don’t like bullies.” He admits the long years of fight have been tough going. “You have to be prepared to play the long game. All the work involved takes time; negotiations are slow; legal actions are even slow. But keep recruiting; a union is no good without members.”
What lessons should Shane learn from this fight?
Adam: How to negotiate rationally and in good faith. Listen to the union. Ideological and dogmatic opposition is bound to fail because it just motivates us to fight harder.
What mistakes have you or the union made thus far in the fight against Shane?
Adam: Uff… Many; it’s a continuous learning process. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of learning from them. I’m most disappointed we didn’t capitalize on our success of winning furlough pay. I think we needed to do a lot more organizing at that time.
How has this fight affected your home life with your wife and daughter?
Adam: Luna’s been to many union actions. Having a stable home life has been critical to help me maintain the fight for so long. I am very grateful.
What’s next for Adam Cleeve?
Adam: I don’t know. Start a Shane franchise school maybe? Seriously though, our fight with Shane isn’t done. There are still members we’re trying to get reinstated. I’m glad my fight is done but I intend to continue to help the union in another capacity.
Anything else you would like to add?
Adam: Workers need to get organized. Join or form a union. Bargain for better.
Louis Carlet, organizer at Tozen Union, 25 November 2022