Workers win biggest back pay award in history!

The Fluor Daniel Corp. has agreed to pay $12 million to 167 workers it denied jobs 15 years ago because they belonged to or were organizing for one of four different unions.

The company dragged its feet for the 15 years since the organizing drives through hearings before the National Labor Relations Board and three federal appeals court rulings in favor of the workers.

The settlement, announced last week by the Boilermakers, the Electrical Workers, the Plumbers and Pipefitters, and the Carpenters, gives each of the workers an amount ranging from $8,000 to $217,000, Boilermakers attorney Mike Stapp said.

The company, a non-union subsidiary of the Fluor Corp., agreed to the settlement after the third ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in favor of the NLRB, the union and the workers.

The settlement ends a case that began in 1994 when the four unions started to jointly organize refinery building construction workers in Baton Rouge, La., and nuclear plant maintenance workers at the Palo Verde reactor outside Phoenix.

The four union presidents, IBEW President Ed Hill, Boilermakers President Newton Jones, Carpenters President Doug McCarron and Plumbers President William Hite praised the settlement in a joint statement, calling it “unprecedented,” and “a large victory for the construction trades.”

“It’s the largest in terms of back pay – and also the longest,” their statement read. “The combined cases took nearly 20 years to litigate through the board and the appeals process. The cases dragged on so long that 13 of the union organizers died while awaiting justice.”

The union presidents said, “Their deaths illustrate the need for labor law reform in the U.S., starting with passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. It should never take two decades for workers to receive justice under the law.

The unions claimed and the courts agreed that Fluor Daniels deliberately discriminated against pro-union workers by changing its hiring rules and by announcing a new policy that it would openly hire non-union workers, regardless of the qualifications that a union worker might have for the job.

Many of the union members who were denied jobs, particularly at Palo Verde, had, in the past, worked for Bechtel, the previous contractor overseeing maintenance. Bechtel is unionized at Palo Verde, with its employees belonging to Ironworkers Local 75, Boilermakers Local 627 and Millwrights Local 1914.

Judge R.J. Cole of the 6th Circuit Court, ruled, “Fluor Daniel intended both projects to be ‘open shop,’ i.e., employees at the sites would not be part of labor organizations and there would be no union labor contract between Fluor Daniel and the hired employees.

“The NLRB found 892 deviations from Fluor Daniel’s hiring protocol at Palo Verde, all in favor of nonunion activists. Analyzing the company’s own data through Nov. 1, 1994, the NLRB found: nine journeymen were hired before they applied, two journeymen were hired after their applications expired, 88 journeymen were hired with less than the required 42 months of craft experience, and over 700 applicants were considered for crafts other than those for which they applied.”

None of those hired were union members, Cole said, even though the union workers who applied met both the company’s technical requirements and passed company administered exams.

The judge also said that Fluor Daniel arbitrarily discriminated against the unionized former Bechtel employees who had applied for their old jobs at Palo Verde. He called that group “an obviously well qualified and available pool of potential employees.”

Cole also wrote that “NLRB’s evidence showed other instances where Fluor Daniel acted in contravention of the act (National Labor Relations Act) in Palo Verde by treating discriminatees differently. Fluor Daniel allowed several discriminates to apply for nonexistent job classifications, while allowing other applicants to apply for comparable work with different job classifications. Fluor Daniel invited non-union applicants to check back in the case of no-shows but did not invite the alleged discriminatees to do the same.

“And Fluor Daniel never referred any of the discriminatees to its Wolf Creek nuclear project, as it did for non-union applicants.

“All this and more,” the judge said, as he agreed with the unions, “showed Fluor Daniel acted out of illegal anti-union animus.”

Asked why Fluor Daniel, after fighting the case for 15 years, finally decided to settle with the unions, Stapp, the Boliermakers’ attorney, would not speculate. He said, however, that the total cost to the company of its union-busting effort was $30 million.


(People’s World photo by James Thompson)


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.