Labor board says mining company illegally forced strike

salt company

COTE BLANCHE, La. - In a win for 100 embattled salt mine workers, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled their employer, Carey Salt of Cote Blanche, La., illegally declared impasse in their 2010 contract talks, forced the miners into an unfair labor practices strike, and then illegally refused to take them back when the miners, represented by the Steelworkers, unconditionally offered to return to work.

But in another angle on the struggle, the Defense Department has shunted aside a Steelworkers request that it push Carey to reinstate an Iraq war veteran the firm fired because he missed time at work due to his needed VA medical appointments.

The 3-0 NLRB ruling in mid-September ordered Carey back to bargaining. It directed that the old contract, which expired March 31, 2010, should be reinstated until the two sides reach a new pact. It also ordered Carey to let go the "replacement workers" it had hired and reinstate the union workers with back pay. The firm said it had 55 replacements and refused to discharge them.

The NLRB ruling upheld its administrative law judge's decision in the case, which also found Carey's parent firm, North American Salt, pre-planned to force the workers out and declare impasse, according to in-house corporate e-mails. And when the union, Steelworkers Local 14425, moved in bargaining, the firm did not.

Carey even engaged in regressive bargaining to prolong the strike, the NLRB ruled. The unfair labor practices strike lasted from April 7-June 15, 2010.

"North American Salt acts like a rogue employer," said USW District 13 Director Mickey Breaux. "It's time for the company to obey the law and work with us to obtain a fair agreement that is good for both sides."

Even Republican NLRB member Brian Hayes "agrees that respondent's (the salt mine's) offering this regressive proposal and conditioning bargaining on the union's acceptance of respondent's demands demonstrates overall bad-faith bargaining," the board said in a footnote. That's notable because Hayes blocked other NLRB rulings by refusing to vote on them, leaving the board without a quorum to conduct business.

Though the NLRB ruling did not mention it, the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department buy millions of dollars of rock salt and other minerals from Carey. The purchases led Steelworkers President Leo Gerard to write the two agencies' Cabinet officers after Carey fired returned Army Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Forestier. Gerard said letting Carey fire Forestier would send a bad signal to other defense contractors. But DOD replied that the Forestier firing is a Labor Department issue. VA has yet to reply.

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