Maytag, union sued over workers’ job terminations

Maytag, union sued over workers’ job terminations
 
Date January 07, 2005
Section(s) Columnists
By Peter  Hussmann Editor  
 
A couple of the victims of the April 2004 purge of Maytag salaried workers have filed suit against the corporation claiming they were wrongfully discharged and should be reinstated to employment.

But what makes this case different is that Maytag Corp.’s action is not the only thing coming under scrutiny. UAW Local 997 has also been brought into the suit for an alleged breach of its own collective bargaining contract provisions.

I’m no lawyer, but the co-mingled lawsuits have the hallmark of breaking new ground in contract law.

Joe Revell and Larry Plumb now have on file in the U.S. District Court in Des Moines a federal lawsuit that claims Maytag Corp. wrongfully discharged them and breached their employment promises. In addition, the two say the UAW failed to live up to the terms of contract provisions in existence throughout their respective 25- and 28-year Maytag employment careers, failed to follow grievance procedure protocol and hung them out to dry.

Here’s the story, according to court documents initially filed in Jasper County District Court but since moved to federal court.

Revell and Plumb were both hired as Maytag production employees back in the 1970s. They did their jobs, came to work each day and apparently were noticed for their abilities because both were asked by the company to change jobs and assume company positions outside the bargaining unit.

Both agreed. But here’s where the catch comes in, according to the nearly identical petitions filed by the same Des Moines lawyer.

In leaving the protected class of the bargaining unit for Iowa’s at-will employment provisions with the company, the two men relied upon contract language in effect at the time of their hiring and promotions that in effect said they would be allowed to return to the production line and retain their accumulated seniority at their sole discretion. At the time they were offered the company posts, the petitions state, they were told they would be allowed “to return to the bargaining unit at any time during his employment outside the bargaining unit.” Maytag, the claim states, made these “representations to induce” them “to accept a position without all of the protections” they “enjoyed as a member of the bargaining unit.” Both men state they accepted the offer based on this safeguard.

But during their employment with the company, the petition states, Maytag modified the safeguards the two used to agree to separate themselves from the union by “placing the condition of such right to return that” Maytag “be able to find an adequate replacement for the employee seeking to be returned to the bargaining unit.”

On April 27, 2004, the hammer fell on both men — and many more for that matter. On that date they were told their positions would no longer be staffed. They were terminated.

Both men, immediately upon notification their services were no longer wanted — and several times prior to the notification in Revell’s case — asked to be returned to the bargaining unit under the terms of what they believed were their contract agreements. Maytag refused so both sought refuge under the employment protections bargained for by the UAW Local 997.

The petitions state both men protested their discharges to the union and a grievance was filed separately on their behalf. The action went to “Step II” of the procedure at which time Maytag “refused to accept the written grievance.”

In their petitions, both men take issue with how the local union handled their claims. The month after their terminations, the petitions state, Local 997 officials notified them that the union was unable to secure an agreement with Maytag on their termination grievances and requests for reinstatement in the bargaining unit even though, the petition claims, “the union believed” they “were entitled to such reinstatement.”

Both men’s claims against the union state the UAW “failed to make a demand for” Maytag “to process the grievance, or for arbitration as permitted under the collective bargaining agreement and instead permitted the time for demanding the processing of the grievance to arbitration to lapse.”

The claims against the union also allege favoritism on the part of the local union.

“(The) defendant union, in breach of its statutory duty of fair representation owed to (Revell and Plumb) under the provisions of the (Labor-Management Relations Act), permitted (the) layoff to stand to favor current union members and employees assigned to positions within the bargaining unit and to disfavor employees such as (Revell and Plumb) who had the right to displace such persons based upon their respective bargaining unit seniority.”

At the time Revell took the position with the company, he had roughly 18 years seniority within the union; Plumb about 10.

Both men are asking the court to impose damages including loss of wages, loss of contributions to health insurance costs, loss of contributions toward pension benefits and reinstatement to bargaining unit positions retroactive to the date of discharge, without any break in seniority.

Responses filed by Maytag and union lawyers both dispute the allegations contained in the petitions saying the collective bargaining agreements in effect at the time of their termination did not apply to them and they have no right to be placed back within jobs at the plant.

A five-day jury trial is currently scheduled for May 2006. It won’t take that long for this matter to be settled, I’m certain, but don’t look for either to be punching a time clock at Maytag any time soon — if ever, I suspect.

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