Iron Workers Union Files Nearly 150 Labor Charges Against One Trucking Company

In Morton, Illinois, at a welding shop for trucking company G&D Integrated, welders worked in fear that one small mistake could end up killing someone. A shop floor arrangement meant that approximately 2,500-pound truck decks could fall on someone if a chain broke.

“If guys weren’t paying attention and didn’t let the guy next to him know if a chain snapped or one of the rigging, one of the shackles snapped, the frame would fall right on the other guy and kill him,” Ron Rhoades, a welder at G&D, told Truthout. Workers claimed that the tables the welders worked at were too close together.

Workers tried to get managers to move the tables to ensure their safety but were ignored. It wasn’t necessarily an issue of funding — the tables simply needed to be moved 90 degrees, no new equipment needed. The workers encountered resistance from management. They raised concerns about safety but were never able to act.

Management’s blasé attitude toward worker safety was typical in the roughly 20-person welding shop at G&D, where workers voted to unionize with the Iron Workers Union last October by a 16 to 4 vote. Workers claim they sought representation to be able to have a voice in their workplace.

“We all felt that it was pretty much just a matter of time before somebody got hurt,” said Thomas Hanley, a former G&D welder. “Other places I’ve worked with usually would listen to the people that work there and if there was a better way to do something, then they were all on board with it.”

The company took a hard stance against the union drive, racking up a mountain of union-busting fees. Nearly six months later, only two workers remain in the shop. During the union-busting campaign, workers were fired or quit. Then, management told the remaining 10 workers that they had to pack up their belongings, and then they were to leave.

The Iron Workers Union has filed nearly 150 unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that the company’s anti-union practices were illegal, according to Iron Workers Union representative Vince Di Donato. The charges “run the whole gamut,” Di Donato told Truthout, “anything from wrongful terminations, surveillance, retaliation, unilateral changes, discrimination” — a slew of common union-busting tactics that the union says violated federal labor laws.

Workers were subject to abuse and berated by Tony Campbell their direct supervisor. He refused safety-related changes to his employees or to listen to them when they complained. Shortly after Campbell was hired a couple of years ago, he hired one of his friends to manage the group, workers said — even though his friend had little to no welding experience and some of the welders had decades under their belts.

“It was Tony’s way or no way,” said Rhoades, one of the workers who initially contacted the union. Rhoades was among those workers who were fired in March. “There was no compromise at all, no matter what you said.”

Campbell was always struggling to time his work, workers stated, even though last year’s shop welders were so efficient they could cut down manufacturing time by half. Campbell would often sit on the mezzanine to see the shop floor and track how fast tasks were completed. He also used the mezzanine to pit workers against one another. He would also time how long workers took in the bathroom; if they weren’t fast enough, he would turn off the air conditioning in the bathroom, even though it was often the only reprieve for workers on hot days.

After workers staged a march in September to demand that their union be recognized — a request that was roundly rejected by the company — management began holding mandatory anti-union meetings, surveilling and isolating pro-union workers and excluding them from meetings. The Labor Relations Institute was also employed by the company as union busters. a notoriousDi Donato explained that union-busting firms cost around $3,000 per day.

“In our captive audience meetings with union busters, they would say, ‘Oh, well, Joe O’Neill, the owner of the company, he’s pissed. He’s pissed off. There’s a good chance he’s gonna close the doors, get rid of all you guys if you push this through,’” said Michael Stout, a former welder fabricator for G&D.

The company was making record profits at the time of the union drive. Workers claim this was due to their labor. They wanted to share in those profits with the company, but asking for a raise was often a non-starter — even with the boom in business, managers would do things like pull old, frayed straps that workers had thrown away out of the trash and order employees to reinstall them.

At one point, before the union drive, managers had put off Hanley’s annual review too long, preventing him from receiving his annual 80 cent an hour raise. While other workers whose reviews were delayed would get back pay for the time that they missed, managers decided after a few months that Hanley’s review had been delayed too long and that he simply wouldn’t get his raise for that year.

After workers won their union, the union-busting drive quickly escalated. Pro-union workers suddenly had “points” for unexcused absences on their record despite never missing work; employees at the company are allowed 12 points before they are fired. Only pro-union workers had their overtime reduced. Previous threats to the workers’ jobs became outright warnings, as managers would show them letters from G&D’s primary client, mining and construction multinational Komatsu, saying that the unexcused absences were forcing Komatsu to withdraw its contracts.

Managers also targeted workers who they believed to be pro-union. An employee who management identified as one of the original organizers had his workstation moved next to management’s office, where he was separate from other workers and could be surveilled. Managers refused to allow the employee to work for several months after he had knee surgery. This was despite the fact that he had been allowed to return to work after the same procedure a few years back.

Another employee who supported unions was bullied by the management. Managers once approached the employee and tried buying the Iron Workers Union shirt off his back. “They bid against each other with [the worker] standing there, offering him money,” Di Donato said. “I think they went up to $50.”

During negotiations for a contract for workers, management refused and stonewalled the union at all costs.

Di Donato says that the company’s union busting is the “prime example” for the reinstatement of the Joy Silk doctrine, a decades-old order that would require employers to provide legitimate reasons for declining to voluntarily recognize a majority-supported union and implement much harsher penalties for unfair labor practices. Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel at the NLRB, announced last year that she was leaving the agency. has been consideringThe rule has been inactive for many decades and should be reinstituted. Labor advocates believe that Joy Silk implementation would benefit workers. change the landscapeThe labor movement has seen a revival in recent years and it is now much easier for workers to form unions.

Workers may not be satisfied with reimplementing Joy Silk. As union membership has fallen, The NLRB been shrinking, HuffPostThis month, it was reported. The agency’s budget hasn’t been increased in a decade, thanks to inaction from Congress, making it far more difficult for the agency to handle its GrowingVolume of work.

Workers say that though G&D may take a hit financially due to the mass layoffs, management may consider union busting to be worth the cost. “I think they’re willing to take that hit because they’re so anti-union,” Hanley said.

Workers also speculate that the company is trying to get rid the union because it is afraid that the union will spread among its truck drivers. The first worker they fired during the anti-union campaign was also the truck driver in the unit. “They did everything they could to keep him out,” said Di Donato.

Di Donato believes that the union wouldn’t have had to file any of the labor charges if Joy Silk had been in place — and that workers could have continued at their jobs and secured a union contract by now.

“Union busting is a billion dollar a year business for a reason,” he said. “Our workers voted yes in the election. They held firm. But I’ll tell you right now, I don’t know too many groups of workers that would go through what these guys did and still vote yes.”

“Instead, these workers are out in the unemployment line looking for a job because the company broke the law multiple times,” Di Donato continued, “and they’re trying to get away with it.”