WINSLOW — A trailer company has settled with five workers who said they were fired for trying to organize a union.
As part of the agreement with the National Labor Relations Board, Alcom, one of the area’s largest employers, admits no wrongdoing but paid the workers $17,000 each, according to Alcom’s attorney, Robert Kline.
Under the agreement, the fired workers — Richard Knight, Shawn Nutt, Bernard Robinson, Clay Thibodeau and Corey Gerard — will not get their jobs back.They initially sought reinstatement. They agreed not to take further action against Alcom and not to apply for work at the company. That National Labor Relations Board ensures companies adhere to federal labor law.
With 185 in-state employees, Alcom was the 23rd-largest employer in Kennebec County during the fourth quarter of 2012, the most recent period on record, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
The union filed a charge related to a sixth fired worker, Ryan Mann, but withdrew the charge before the settlement was reached.
Scott Gustafson, of the Laborers International Union of North America, said the union’s effort to organize the company’s employees continues.
Gustafson, the union’s regional director, said the employees are moving on to other companies.
“We were able to place some of them at various other opportunities in Maine where the pay is much better and they’re treated much better than they were at Alcom,” Gustafson said.
The effort of Alcom workers to join the Laborers International Union is ongoing, he said.
In Maine, 11.5 percent of people who were employed in 2012 were members of unions, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is down from a 12-year high of 13.8 percent in 2000 and up from a low of 11.3 percent, reached in both 2004 and 2011.
Devin Mayo, of the Laborers International Union, said the organizing effort at the company would have been served better if the workers had been reinstated at Alcom, but added that the outcome was “the best for the individuals, not the organizing drive.”
After taxes and other payroll deductions, each of the five workers was given a check last week.
Other charges, filed May 24 with the federal board by the union, alleged that the company spied on its employees, gave the impression of spying on its employees and fired the workers as part of an effort to thwart an effort to unionize.
As a result of those charges, the board ordered the company to post information in the workplace about the rights of workers under the National Labor Relations Act.
Gustafson said that the union “would not be shy” about filing new charges.
Union supporters within the company have said there are no ongoing violations by Alcom management, according to Mayo.
Kline said that, while he accepts the settlement, he and Alcom have reservations.
“Usually in a settlement, neither side is totally happy with the outcome,” he said. “If one party says ‘we’re thrilled,’ it’s usually not a very good settlement.”
The company’s position is that the workers were not terminated for reasons related to their union activities, but for other reasons, Kline said.
“The pain in this case is Alcom paid money to pay off charges that were not meritorious,” he said.
Alcom President Trapper Clark wrote a letter to employees announcing the settlement on Aug. 26.
In the letter, Clark reiterated his position that the employees were not fired because of their union activity.
“Nevertheless,” he wrote, “to put this distraction behind us and to concentrate on business, the company is settling these claims.”
Kline said Alcom has made internal changes as a result of the process. The company used to offer a second shift in which employees worked three 12-hour days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Kline said there were frequent problems with the workers on the shift and suggested that the arrangement attracted workers who were less desirable, or who were juggling their responsibilities with other commitments.
“This process highlighted the remoteness of that shift from day-to-day management,” he said.
Now the second shift works Monday through Thursday. Kline said the change will make it easier to manage the employees on that shift.
Maine’s AFL-CIO released a statement on the settlement Wednesday afternoon in which it expressed support for Alcom workers.
Under federal law, workers for any employer have a right to join labor organizations and bargain collectively, while employers are forbidden to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees who are exercising those rights. Employers also are prohibited from discriminating against workers or retaliating against them for the purpose of discouraging union membership.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287