Rare Victory for ‘Illegally’ Fired Workers Shows Labor Laws Stacked Against Union Drives
Union organizer Jody Mauller discusses the National Labor Relations Board’s decision to reinstate 13 workers who were fired for organizing a Terex plant in Minnesota
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
It was an unusual ruling by a federal board in a country where union participation is falling and the right to organize under constant threat. I’m talking about the recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board which ruled that last June Terex, a billion-dollar manufacturer of construction equipment, began illegally threatening and firing workers who organized a unionizing campaign in an assembly plant in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The judge says the company must reinstate and compensate 13 employees who were fired, and must also recognize and bargain with the union. Terex may still appeal the decision.
Now joining us to discuss this is the organizer that worked with those 13, Jody Mauller. Jody is with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.
Thanks so much for joining us.
JODY MAULLER, ORGANIZER, INDUSTRIAL SECTOR OPERATIONS, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF BOILERMAKERS: Thank you for having me.
NOOR: Give us the backstory of this case. How did you get involved, and why were the workers seeking to organize themselves?
MAULLER: Well, the local affiliate of our local lodge in Grand Rapids, Local 647 of the Boilermakers, they actually received a contact from one of the workers that they were interested in organizing. I’m with the International, so I was assigned to the campaign to go up there. And we met with the workers in February of 2014, last year.
Met with initially about seven or eight of them, and they just expressed some concern that compared to some of the other facilities in the area that do similar work, their wages weren’t up to par with those unionized facilities. But more importantly they expressed concern about just basic dignity and fairness. There was, the way the rules were applied was basically at the discretion of management. If you were in the good old boy network inside the facility then you tended to get some breaks. And they just felt things weren’t fair, and they were seeking fairness and dignity, and some better pay and benefits.
NOOR: And so talk about how the company reacted to these workers. I know that the union, the vote was in June, and that/s when the crackdown began.
MAULLER: Yeah. They initially, they hired of course a union-busting consultant. They started having captive audience meetings. You know, the typical textbook stuff that pretty much every employer does. We had the election, I believe it was June 18th of last year. And immediately following that, literally the day after, they terminated three–and let me preface that by saying that the paint department voted overwhelmingly, it was over 90 percent in favor of having representation. Immediately following that they terminated three of the paint workers who just so happened to be three of the most vocal supporters of the union, and they also announced that there would be more terminations to follow.
This was, there was a week in between the two elections. We had a paint election and an assembly election. So in that week in between, the employer just went on what can really only be described as a rampage. The plant manager held a captive audience meeting with the assembly workers, knowing that they had a vote coming up.
And he went on this profanity-laden, expletive-filled rant basically, yelling, some of the workers described it as red in the face, looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his head, a meltdown. Telling them that they were stupid for wanting a union in here, just said you have the luxury of sitting back and watching what happens to the paint workers. They sent the front office management people, who rarely if ever before ever came out to the production floor, telling them stories of how they’re going to shut the facility down. Some of them even produced tears, that they didn’t know what they were going to do. Tugging on the heart strings of the workers and making them feel bad for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. It was just very egregious behavior on the part of the [inaud.]
NOOR: Now, so it’s been a year now. So the NLRB ruled just this week, so it’s been a year. It’s been a year, and they ruled this illegal, but the company is only really getting a slap on the wrist because they do have to pay the back wages, but that’s minus whatever unemployment or other work they’ve gotten. And so it might still be weeks more before the company and the workers sit down again. And so some of these workers have been off for a year. So this is a victory, but can you put this in some context for us?
MAULLER: Well, [inaud.] bargaining orders such as this are rare, and as unfortunate as it is, labor law in this country is so skewed in favor of the employer that having a victory like this, I mean, you just kind of, you celebrate it because it’s rare. The employer has 28 days to file exceptions. Hopefully, we’re hopeful that the employer will just, they’ll accept this ruling. Judge Goldman, who ruled on it, made a pretty ironclad ruling. It’s 103 pages, single-spaced. So he, I mean, he laid out his logic in why he made that ruling.
It’s also worth noting that when the region filed for, to seek the bargaining order, the board in D.C. recommended it unanimously. That includes the Republican appointees to the board. So the employer is going to appeal this to the same board that ruled unanimously to seek it to start with. So hopefully they know that. And they can just recognize that these workers have a right to bargain collectively with their employer, and we can sit down and start negotiating a contract with some fair wages, grievance procedure, a just cause provision in their contract, and we can move on to giving these workers what they deserve.
NOOR: All right, well, we’ll certainly keep following this story. Thank you so much for joining us.
MAULLER: Thank you. Thank you.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
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