Roger Kerson's review of Martin Jay Levitt's book Confessions of a Union Buster [January 14] should have appeared on your editorial page and not as a legitimate book review.
While Kerson refers to his background as a "researcher," he didn't do much research before taking pen in hand nor does he seem to understand the many forces which have adversely affected labor union membership.
If Kerson had called me to verify Levitt's employment by my firm, he would have discovered that I hired Levitt in 1971 (not 1969) and fired him for cause on September 7, 1973, a fact which Levitt denies in the book written "with" Terry Conrow, a professional writer. His allegations should be viewed as statements of an embittered ex-employee.
In his book Levitt alludes to just enough of his seamy past to deflect more serious inquiry. But since he was fired, Levitt has been in and out of court on multiple occasions for forgery, fraud, grand theft, failing to file income tax returns, stealing his own cars and has had 28 known judgments against him for nonpayment of debts which totaled well over $100,000.
Indeed, Kerson himself poses the question: "But how can a disinterested observer trust anything Levitt says? He is, after all, a confessed terrorist who states that he has been a professional liar for many years." That acknowledged, Kerson then goes on to hold Levitt up as the definitive authority on management consultants. Seems to be a contradiction here.
Had Kerson done any serious research and discovered all of Levitt's well documented and authenticated legal offenses, would he still lionize Levitt? Probably.
Organized labor needs a whipping boy to account for its membership losses and its failure to organize the remaining unorganized, of whom there are now many more than those who are organized. The whipping boys they have chosen are management consultants and attorneys.
I suggest that the true causes of the decline of unionism are global competition, out-sourcing of high paying jobs to low pay states or countries, corporate downsizing, unemployment, a meteoric rise in the use of part-timers, outmoded and ineffective labor laws, government-sanctioned restructuring of wages and capital and some labor leaders who are inept, lazy, corrupt or out of touch with the present economic realities.
Kerson's admission that he worked ten years as a publicist for labor who welcomes a peek behind "enemy" lines and works as a propagandist claiming the high ground for his "side" clearly establishes him as a biased and partisan observer who lives in the pre-Jurassic days of adversarial labor relations.
If we are to survive in the face of internal and external competition, let's hope those days are dead and gone.
John A. Sheridan
Chairman & CEO
John Sheridan Associates
Roger Kerson replies:
I am honored to be insulted by John Sheridan, who earns his living by helping employers defeat union organizing drives.
Sheridan's problem with Marty Levitt is that Levitt--who admits in his book that he's a liar, a drunk, a thief, and an adulterer--should have confessed to even more high crimes and misdemeanors. I don't get it. If Levitt were more of a scoundrel than he says he is in the pages of Confessions of a Union Buster would that make his charges against Sheridan and his other former colleagues in the field any less true?
Sheridan's problem with me is that I am not objective and therefore not entitled to write a "legitimate" book review. In effect, Sheridan is arguing that people with opinions different from his own shouldn't be allowed to have their articles published.
Of course I'm a "biased and partisan observer"--and proud of it. I never pretended to be anything else. Sheridan, on the other hand, poses as a friend of working people, but he works to deny people the ability to form organizations to advance their collective self-interest.
Levitt's book is important precisely because it exposes the unethical and antidemocratic practices that "management consultants" use to defeat unions. If Levitt's expose wasn't true and on target Sheridan wouldn't be so upset by it--or by my review.