Workers say union failed to stop violation of pact
By Jeanne Starmack
Twenty-eight General Motors employees are suing GM, the United Auto Workers and UAW Local 1112, saying they should have higher pay and more seniority.
The workers contend the company violated the collective-bargaining agreement where they were concerned, and the union did nothing to stop it.
The suit was filed Saturday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. The workers contend they tried to settle the dispute internally first but now must ask the court for relief.
They are asking for $3 million in back pay, which is the difference over the last three years between what they are making — $14 an hour — and what they say they should be making — $30 an hour, said their attorney, Ken Myers of Cleveland.
“Over several years, the company deprived these people of higher wages and seniority while the union stood by and did nothing,” Myers said.
GM representatives and UAW Local 1112 President Jim Graham, reached Saturday, said they have not seen the suit and could not comment on it.
However, Local 1112 Shop Chairman Ben Strickland, said, “As much as possible, we do take care of our members. The UAW definitely did their job, and everything was in place.” He would not elaborate.
The suit says the workers were hired as temporaries in October 2006. Their temporary status was extended a number of times, but the company failed to grant the proper approval to extend it, a violation of the contract, it says.
When a temporary employee is hired, he must either be laid off or hired permanently after his time is up, it contends. The union allowed the company to continually extend the temporary assignments rather than make them permanent, the suit says.
According to the suit, in April 2007, the plaintiffs were arbitrarily terminated while 22 temporary employees hired with them were retained.
After the plaintiffs were terminated, the company brought in nonunion employees, managers and contractors to do their jobs, the suit says.
The terminations and the use of nonunion employees were contract violations, but the union did not investigate or file a grievance, the suit says.
In November 2007, the plaintiffs were rehired and were supposed to be permanent employees with seniority for the time they served as temporaries, the suit says.
On June 13, 2008, they were called into the labor office at the Lordstown plant and forced to sign a document that re-categorized them as temporary employees, with June 12, 2008, as their seniority date, the complaint states.
They were told they had to sign the document or be immediately terminated, it says.
Most of the plaintiffs got pay cuts of more than 40 percent.
Myers said the plaintiffs were told their pay would go back up once the company hired a third shift.
A few days later, the union and company entered into an agreement called Special Employee Hiring Opportunities, under which former Delphi employees could be hired.
Those Delphi employees were allowed to “jump over” the plaintiffs to jobs with higher pay, a direct violation of the contract, the suit contends.
The union did not investigate, it says.
When permanent third-shift employees were hired in July 2008, the plaintiffs were not given the higher pay and seniority. Their wages were left at the lower level while other employees hired after them were given higher wages, the suit says.
The plaintiffs told the local union that they should not have had their wages and benefits reduced and that other employees who started after them should not have “bumped” them to fill permanent positions.
The union refused to file grievances, the suit says. The plaintiffs appealed that refusal through the international union’s Public Review Board, to no avail.
Myers said the board issued an opinion that the plaintiffs didn’t meet their burden of proof to show improper conduct on the local union’s part. The local has discretion on whether to file a grievance.
But, Myers said, he’s confident that under full discovery in the court process, he can prove the allegations.
The plaintiffs are asking for the back pay plus an order for GM to reinstate them to permanent positions with corresponding pay and benefits.