Union dispute settled

Workers to get back pay; Austin admits no wrong

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

Thirteen former craft workers who were laid off while building the BP Gas-to-Liquid plant in Nikiski last year will receive $233,000 in back wages from Austin Maintenance and Construction Inc. The payment is part of a settlement brokered through the National Labor Relations Board and finalized Thursday afternoon.

The settlement is the result of a series of unfair labor practices complaints filed by workers and by the Western Alaska Building and Construction Trades Council. The complainants claimed they were laid off because they tried to unionize workers on the project.

Austin, a Delaware company with its headquarters in Houston, Texas, was contracted to build the GTL facility which was completed this year.

As part of the settlement, Austin did not admit to any unfair labor practices, but did agree to pay the terminated workers for time lost and to send a letter detailing the results of the hearing, except for the settlement amount, to the 230 people who worked on the project.

"The 13 people involved felt very happy with the result," said Ron Truini, one of the complainants. He was not laid off, but was suspended once, threatened with disciplinary action for union activities and later suspended again, then never reinstated, according to the consolidated unfair labor practices complaint in the case.

"We all felt we had a very good case and could have gone on to litigation," he said.

Bob Buch, an organizer with Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 367 and the hearing delegate for the Western Alaska Building and Construction Trades Council, added, "We feel had we proceeded, we would have won on all counts, but we accepted the settlement to expedite payment and not take up to two or three years."

The case began in May 2001, when workers at the plant approached union organizers to explore the option of unionizing.

"Employees came to us while we were at a rally for Peak (Oilfield Services)," Buch said. "We set up a meeting and eight people showed up that night."

Organizers collected enough authorization cards -- employee-signed statements in support of holding an election -- to conduct a NLRB election.

On Aug. 3, 2001, employees voted 51 to 40 against a union.

Organizers claimed that the result was due to intimidation and threats by Austin.

The consolidated unfair labor practices complaint charged that Austin managers and supervisors tore up union fliers, drove by the union hall to check up on employees, made rules against wearing union stickers and threatened job and wage security if workers voted to unionize.

It also charged that in addition to indefinitely suspending Truini, Austin laid off 12 other workers who had worn union stickers or participated in union activities.

The complaint went to a hearing in Kenai this week before an administrative law judge with the NLRB.

After two days of testimony, the parties opted to explore a settlement.

The settlement grants the 13 former employees a total of $233,000 in back wages.

It also requires Austin to send a mailing of notice to everyone employed by the company at the GTL plant.

Though Austin did not admit to any unfair labor practices, the notice it will send to former employees states, "Federal law gives you the right to form, join or assist a labor organization; choose representatives to bargain on your behalf; act together with other employees for your benefit and protection; and to refrain from engaging in any of these protected activities."

The notice goes on to say that Austin will not "in any manner interfere with the exercise of the foregoing rights by our employees and more specifically we will not discharge, lay off or suspend employees for engaging in union activities."

Another condition of the settlement reads, "The charged party shall comply with all the terms and provisions of said notice."

Administrative Law Judge Gerald A. Wacknov approved the settlement Thursday afternoon.

"After extensive and extended negotiations lasting a couple of days, the parties have reached resolution of the matter," he said. "I'm delighted with that. This is a better way to handle a matter like this.

"Everyone has to go away thinking, 'Perhaps we could have done better.' But they also have to be thinking, 'Perhaps we could have done worse.'"

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