Omnova attorney: Replacement workers harassed

 

From left, Omnova retiree Rosa Heard, United Steelworkers Local 748-L president Jay Lawrence, USW staff representative Kevin Johnsen and union attorney Lynn Agee chat outside the Lowndes County Courthouse, after a hearing, heard before a National Labor Relations Board representative.

From left, Omnova retiree Rosa Heard, United Steelworkers Local 748-L president Jay Lawrence, USW staff representative Kevin Johnsen and union attorney Lynn Agee chat outside the Lowndes County Courthouse, after a hearing, heard before a National Labor Relations Board representative. Photo by: Garthia Elena Burnett

 

Garthia Elena Burnett

 

 

Omnova Solutions wants to keep the names and addresses of its 140 replacement workers private due to concerns for their safety. Meanwhile, the company''s affiliated union, the United Steelworkers Local 748-L, is challenging the validity of a petition to decertify the union, which has been on strike since May 21, 2010. 

 

The issues came up Tuesday morning, at a pre-election hearing before a National Labor Relations Board representative. A group of about 120 replacement workers petitioned the NLRB for a decertification election, which would give them an opportunity to vote to make Columbus'' Omnova plant non-union. 

 

Since the local union challenged the election, the NLRB held a hearing on Tuesday to establish the issues surrounding the case. 

 

"We have a motion to dismiss the motion at this time," said Lynn Agee, attorney for the union. 

 

Agee questioned whether the petition is valid since it is not clear who truly are Omnova employees, the replacement workers or the union membership, which totaled 174 when the strike began. He also wanted to clarify whether or not union members would be allowed to vote in the election. 

 

In general, after an election has been set, an excelsior list (a master list of employees and their contact information) is released to the union. 

 

Dave Radelet, attorney for Omnova, expressed concern the release of such information could be detrimental to the replacement workers, whom he said have dealt with harassment, assault and flat tires "over an 11-month period." 

 

"There is a vast amount of evidence of replacement workers being subjected to property damage, assault, intrusions into their homes and personal property, damage to their tires, projectiles around their property," Radelet said, noting there is tangible evidence of the incidents.  

 

"This past weekend, bullets were shot into the residence of a replacement worker ... and residue poured onto his truck, damaging the truck," he continued. 

 

"This is a long strike, and when replacement workers are used, emotion tend to be elevated," said Agee, adding that the union "has no evidence of the acts."  

 

"We have to have an opportunity to express what the union''s view is," he continued. "The excelsior list is the standard way." 

 

After the meeting, local union president Jay Lawrence said some workers may want union representation "if they know the facts up front." 

 

"Basically, what a union does is give you a voice," Lawrence said. "Without a union, you have no voice. You have no one to go to the employer on your behalf. You''re just one person against the company." 

 

About a dozen people were at the hearing, mostly current or former Omnova workers. 

 

"We''re here supporting our workers," said Mattie Andrews, who retired from Omnova in November. "I''m with them. I''m gonna be with them ''til the end." 

 

"It''s terrible (the way the company is treating them)," said Rosa Heard, who retired from Omnova last May, when the strike began. 

 

The regional director of the NLRB will review information presented in Tuesday''s hearing and issue an order on how the matter will proceed. The matter likely will still go to a vote, but Tuesday''s and any additional hearings could delay the process. 

 

Even after a vote is taken, ballots can be challenged, further delaying the matter. 

 

Items submitted into evidence Tuesday, including unsigned copies of the temporary, and later, replacement agreements signed by workers, and written testimony from Lawrence and USW staff representative Kevin Johnsen, were rejected, as part of Tuesday''s hearing but may come up at a later time. Tuesday''s hearing was to establish the "issues" of the case. 

 

The pre-election hearing was overseen by Stacee Smith, field examiner for the NLRB. 

 

Radelet, Agee and Haden Self, who filed the petition on behalf of himself and his fellow replacement workers, have until May 31 to file briefs.

 

 

 

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