Efforts by right-to-work outfit stall union drive in High Point
The United Auto Workers union last month temporarily ceded its right to represent employees Thomas Built Buses in High Point after the anti-union National Right To Work Foundation challenged its method of organizing the workers.
The UAW and Thomas Built Buses’ parent company Freightliner agreed on March 10 to invalidate a card-check certification that gave the union the right to represent the workers, following a complaint filed by employee Jeff Ward in April 2004.
‘“Our lawyers said it’s much more expeditious to go ahead and settle,’” said Gary Casteel, regional director for UAW Region 8 based in Lebanon, Tenn. ‘“We want to go ahead and get this out of the way, so we can have an election and start representing the workers.’”
Casteel acknowledged that the card-check certification process ‘— which involves collecting cards from a majority of the workers stating that they want to be represented by the union ‘— might have been conducted improperly. But he said the problem was a technicality exploited by the foundation to counter a number of recent UAW gains in North Carolina.
‘“The National Right To Work Foundation has gotten more aggressive,’” he said. ‘“This is the third plant we’ve organized after Cleveland [NC] and Gastonia. It’s driving them crazy that we’re having so much success.’”
In his complaint Ward, who is 38 and lives in Thomasville, complained that the company pressured the employees to support the union by forcing them to attend mandatory meetings.
‘“The company posted a memo saying there would be mandatory meetings for all employees that were in a pool that could be represented by the UAW,’” he said. ‘“We would be paid to listen to these speakers on company time and on company premises. It turns out that it was a union pep rally.
‘“The UAW says ‘we’re here to give you a voice,”” he added. ‘“I don’t think the employees need a union, as I have shown I have a voice of my own.’”
Matt Thornton of the right-to-work foundation, which helped Ward file his complaint, called the mandatory meetings ‘“coercive.’”
‘“The purpose of a captive audience speech is to encourage your employees to support the union, and attached to that is the insinuation that there would be consequences for not supporting the union’s card-check effort,’” he said.
Casteel contested the assertion that the card-check process was coercive.
‘“The company got up and said they were neutral and they didn’t have any problem working with or without the union,’” he said. ‘“They said: ‘It’s your decision. Don’t be intimidated.’ We got up and said we applauded them for being open and honest and fair, and we don’t want anyone in the union or the company intimidating you ‘— and we won’t tolerate it.
‘“The plant’s got a thousand people in it,’” he added. ‘“There were some management people in the room when we distributed the cards at the meeting. They probably shouldn’t have been there.’”
Chris Brandt, a spokesman for Freightliner in Portland Ore. confirmed that the company takes a position of neutrality on unionization.
‘“We leave it up to the employees to decide if they want union representation,’” he said.
Ward said he has been the target of a campaign of harassment since the UAW and Freightliner withdrew their certification agreement. He said a flier was circulated throughout the plant that lists Ward’s phone number and directions to his house and reads: ‘“Jeff Ward lives here. Go tell him how you really feel about the union.’” He also said he has received harassing phone calls late at night.
The right-to-work foundation is paying for a 24-hour security detail around his house.
‘“I think the broad knowledge that there are security guards at my house has deterred any vandalism or acts of violence,’” he said.
A lawyer for the foundation requested investigations by police in High Point and Thomasville, as well as the district attorneys for Guilford and Davidson counties into the UAW’s ‘“possible role in encouraging reprisals against workers opposing unionization.’”
Stuart Albright, the district attorney for Guilford County, said he looked into the allegations and determined the matter did not warrant investigation.
‘“On the face of the letter, you’ve got to deal with the First Amendment issue versus an actual crime,’” he said. ‘“It does not rise to the level of communicating threats. The burden of proof is very high on the criminal level.’”
Al Andrews, attorney for the High Point Police Department, said the department is investigating the matter, but has found no evidence to suggest that Ward is being threatened.
‘“Mr. Ward’s listed in the phone book,’” he said. ‘“I could do a search for you and draw a map to your house. If I put a map out and said, ‘Go ahead and kill Jordan Green at his house,’ that would rise to the level of illegality, but if I put a map out and said, ‘Go and vigorously disagree with Jordan Green about the slant of his articles,’ that’s protected under the First Amendment.’”
Likewise, Andrews said, Ward has received a number of phone calls that were abusive and confrontational, but none that were evidently threatening.
Ward said the employees are divided over the union and he was uncertain whether the UAW will ultimately prevail. He said he collected 400 signatures in 2004 from employees who oppose unionization.
Casteel, the union director, said the UAW will file for a new election in mid-May, in which he expects the employees to support the union. The election will be conducted by secret ballot to dispel suspicions of intimidation or conflict of interest between the company and union.
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