When we last saw Berlitz, it was suing five of its instructors and two officials of the National Union of General Workers (NUGW) Tokyo Nambu for ¥110 million in damages each on the grounds that their strike was illegal and that the union was trying to damage the company.
A column in the Japan Times, however, notes that the court proceedings are going nowhere fast. Instead of pressing their case, Berlitz appears to have decided on a battle of attrition by waiting out its instructors.
Both sides appear prepared for a lengthy legal battle. After the first January court date for Berlitz's lawsuit, Ken Yoshida, one of the union's lawyers, said the company's legal team was "stalling," and that it would be a long, drawn-out court fight. So far, Yoshida's prediction seems to be proving accurate. Berlitz lawyers have been repeatedly late submitting the required documents for both their suit against striking teachers and the Labor Commission hearings. This leads to further delays because union lawyers don't have time to prepare a proper response.
According to Timothy Langley, a lawyer and president of Langley Enterprise K.K., a consultancy specializing in labor issues, such delays by company lawyers are "no big deal, the court is very lenient." He speculates that "it could be their litigation strategy."
"Who can survive this fight the longest? It isn't the employees," said Langley. "The company can survive this fight for a long time. It's one of the costs of doing business. The employees are doing it because it's their livelihood. It wears on the employees much more than on the company."
As the column notes, suing workers for an illegal strike is an attack on Article 28 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to organize and to bargain and act collectively, and would have ramifications for industrial relations across Japan. Fortunately, the law is on the side of the instructors, and Berlitz's argument that the strike is illegal is very weak.
The second hearing in the suit lasted a matter of minutes. One judge complained that after reading the company's recently filed documents he still couldn't understand their reasoning for why the strike was illegal. He told Berlitz's lawyers to provide a concise and understandable summary of their arguments before the next hearing. Looking at the crowd of union supporters in the courtroom, the judge added that the summary was necessary not only to help him understand the company's position, but also for the benefit of all those coming to hear the case.
Campbell expressed disappointment at the latest delay. "It's the dragging-on that's very frustrating. They sued in December and you'd think they would have their evidence prepared. In this case they sued and then prepared their evidence. Not only that, but they took an enormous amount of time and still haven't finished it all."
Union rep Carlet added, "It's outrageous that the company has submitted almost nothing in terms of evidence that the strike is illegal. They haven't specified where the damages are coming from. All they did was sue, and they haven't come out with anything."
Since the article compares the case to "trench warfare," I expect there will a lot casualties once this battle is over. But this is something worth fighting for. If instructors don't stand up for their rights, they will forever be stomped on by their eikaiwa employers. That said, I wonder if Berlitz isn't shooting itself in the foot with this lawsuit. Berlitz claims that the instructors intended to harm the company, but when they decided to sue their own employees, they showed everyone for what they really are: a malicious, union-busting employer.