UAW Documents Exonerate "Freightliner Five"
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UAW Documents Exonerate "Freightliner Five"
On May 16, UAW Local 3520 released documents, complying with an order of federal North Carolina Judge William Beaty. The suit's plaintiffs -- the "Freightliner Five" -- have been demanding the documents since March 29.
The plaintiffs are so called because their profitable employer, Freightliner LLC of Cleveland, NC, fired them in April 2007, for participating as local officers in a plant-wide strike. Grievances protesting the discharges are about to be arbitrated.
Freightliner is the largest manufacturer of heavy trucks in North America.
The suit, started on May 7, charges that the union took its action in violation of federal labor laws governing free speech, equal rights, and due process.
Last fall, the union tried to expel the Five. An International UAW-sponsored charge of unbecoming conduct was rejected by a randomly-selected local union trial committee, after a week-long trial.
In ordering the trial to take place, the International UAW said the Five lied to members during the strike. But every trial witness -- including those both for and against the Five -- testified just the opposite, that they told members the truth.
The written charge did not specifically claim the Five lied to members during the strike. That fact alone should have precluded the trial.
Now the union is again trying to expel them, claiming they failed to pay certain dues and didn't follow an obscure UAW rule in November before the trial. The rule requires laid off and terminated members to certify their continued eligibility in the UAW.
The strike, endorsed by votes of the bargaining committee and strike committee, was not endorsed by the International UAW. Members walked anyway because the old contract had expired, and there were 22 open issues still on the bargaining table. Freightliner had announced cancellation of the upcoming Good Friday holiday and refused to return to the table.
As members left, Freightliner's management announced they could go without discipline. Reneging the next day, the company fired the Five.
The strike was broken after one shift by a phone tree announcement of local president George Drexel. A month later, members ratified a contract with significant improvements over what the company had on the table as the strike started. Workers were able to get profit sharing and better contract language.
When the Five tried to enter a local membership meeting in February, the union called the Iredell County sheriff. Deputies came and told them to leave. They did, but outside, one them, Allen Bradley, was arrested for not moving quickly enough. Bradley faces jail time of up to 30 days.
On May 9 the local tried to dodge service of the suit papers by locking the door on one of its executive officers, Todd Scott.
In March, the Five appealed internally to International UAW President Gettelfinger in Detroit. They have demanded the record in the UAW decision ordering the trial. Gettelfinger has taken no action.
Here is what the new documents say:
** The union claims the Five owe a total of only $397.88 in dues. Plaintiffs dispute that they owe anything. But even if reinstatement fees totaling $100 are added, this sum is well under the $1200 which Bradley paid for all five of them under protest on February 4, before the expulsions occurred. Actually, the local owes Bradley a refund with interest.
** The documents admit that historically, Local 3520 has never attempted to enforce the strange UAW certification rule. The technical procedure says a fired member desiring to remain active must certify that desire to the union, personally or by receipted mail during the last 10 days of each month starting with the sixth month from the discharge.
** The documents do not contest that Local 3520 is currently allowing two other fired members to remain active though they never certified.
** The documents admit that Local 3520 financial secretary Shayne Brown testified at the trial she didn't know whether the Five should be expelled.
** The documents do not contest that the UAW's "supreme court" ruled in 2005 the certification requirement is so daunting, dense, complicated, and inconsistent that it cannot be understood, so members are entitled to rely on whatever the local financial secretary (Brown) tells them, even if it is technically wrong.
** The documents admit Brown and the union freely allowed the Five to participate as officers and members for more than three months after the date on which they supposedly lost their good standing in November.
** The documents implicate three officials of the International UAW in the decision to expel, including one in the Detroit office of President Ron Gettelfinger.
In addition to Bradley, the Five are Robert Whiteside, Franklin Torrence, Glenna Swinford, and David Crisco.
Judge Beaty has ordered a hearing for June 9, 2008. The case is Whiteside et al v UAW Local 3520. The docket number is 1:08-cv-00327-JAB.
The Freightliner Five website is www.justice4five.com..
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