BY Jordan Cohen
The attorney representing Phillips Manufacturing, whose workers have been on strike for more than two months, says he will file a constitutional challenge to the city’s strikebreaker law.
The company has been charged in a criminal case with hiring replacement workers, a violation of a Niles ordinance which prohibits the employment of “strikebreakers” during a legal work stoppage.
“The local law is pre-empted by a series of federal laws and court decisions and is unconstitutional,” said attorney Patrick Wilson of Warren, the company’s legal counsel. Wilson said he advised Niles Municipal Court Judge Thomas Townley of his intent to challenge the law’s constitutionality during a pre-trial hearing in the judge’s chambers Friday.
Wilson said that a similar strikebreaker ordinance in Columbus was ruled unconstitutional in a 1988 court case. “That will be included in my filing,” the attorney said.
“We think they’ve hired around 20 people since the strike began,” said Tony Beltz, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 4564, who, along with several striking union members, waited for the outcome of the pre-trial conference. The 44 union employees struck the Walnut Street plant Sept. 13 after an impasse in contract negotiations.
Atty. Terry Swauger, city prosecutor who filed the criminal charge against the company, said he doesn’t agree with Wilson’s contention. “I feel confident that our law will stand up to the challenge,” Swauger said.
The prosecutor said the city ordinance was enacted in 1964 and amended in 1971. A constitutional challenge of the law was filed in 1989 during a strike against the Amweld Corporation, which had brought in replacement workers. However the labor dispute was subsequently settled, and the constitutional issue was never litigated.
Penalties for violating the ordinance are fines of up to $500 and a six-month jail sentence. “I’m assuming a corporate executive would have to serve the sentence,” Swauger said.
Trial has been set for Jan. 7, however, Swauger said the proceeding could be delayed depending on the time it takes for Townley to rule on the constitutional issue.
The USW’s Beltz said contract negotiations are at a standstill, and no new talks have been scheduled. “We emailed a proposal that they turned down, and they don’t want to negotiate,” Beltz said. The union vice president said he believes the company has decided to “wait us out.”
Brad Garlock, Phillips human-resources director, declined comment about the status of negotiations. “[We] remain positive and hopeful that agreement for a new collective-bargaining agreement is possible,” he said in a written statement to The Vindicator.
Phillips Manufacturing produces metal products for the commercial and residential construction industries.