THIS WEEK IN LABOR

Ohio Steelworkers sign contract

Steelworkers at AK Steel Corporation ended 52 months without a collective bargaining agreement Jan. 26 with the signing of a final contract settlement with the company formerly known as Armco. That period included a bitter 39-month lockout of workers at the company’s Mansfield, Ohio plant. According to the Steelworkers union, the last remaining “temporary replacement workers” left the Mansfield plant in December 2003. The settlement includes an increase in the return to work bonuses and credit for the union members’ seniority during the lockout.

“I’m most proud of our members and their families in Mansfield for the solidarity they demonstrated during times of unimaginable hardship,” said Steelworkers President Leo Gerard.



Justice delayed is justice denied

It took 12 years for 29 workers who were illegally fired for forming a union with the United Steelworkers of America to win a legal battle with Weldun International, Inc., in Bridgman, Mich. “This case shows the crucial need for labor law reform,” said USWA President Leo Gerard. “It should never have taken this long for the workers to be made whole for what was taken from them illegally.”

In 1992, more than 65 percent of the workers at the Weldun facility signed union authorization cards with the USWA. When the company fired the 29 and sent their work to another shop, the USWA filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, winning a decision ordering the company to pay and reinstate the employees. Through successive appeals of the ruling the company was able to get away with its illegal mass firing for over a decade. Under the settlement, the workers will receive an average of over $41,000 each to cover wages and medical expenses lost during the 12 years.



$7,000 for a life?

ABC Sports cameraman Richard Umansky, 48, fell to his death from an unguarded platform at University of Wisconsin football stadium in November. OSHA fined ABC Sports $7,000 for not properly guarding the open sided platform. National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians Union called Umansky’s death “tragic and avoidable.”



Uniform justice? No penalties for labor law violators

Cintas, the nation’s largest industrial uniform provider, illegally fired union supporters, solicited employees to oppose unionization, and threatened workers by telling them they would lose benefits if they did not engage in anti-union activities, according to a complaint issued by the NLRB Jan. 7 after an 11-month investigation. However, under current NLRB procedures, it will likely be years before fired workers are reinstated. (See story above about steelworkers in Bridgman, Mich.) Meanwhile, to remedy the damage done by threats, bribes and interrogation, Cintas is only required to post a notice promising not to do it again! The NLRB assigns no fines for these violations.



Pensions at risk

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that insures pension plans, announced Jan. 16 that its deficit had grown from $3.6 billion to $11.2 billion over the last year. The agency took over 152 bankrupt single-employer pension plans last year covering 206,000 people, according to a report by Associated Press. About 34.5 million people are covered by 29,500 pension plans sponsored by single employers. Underfunding for all pension plans is estimated at more than $350 billion.

This Week in Labor was compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org).