Judges send Muth, union back to table

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2000

Two judges have ruled in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners’s favor on complaints that Muth Lumber Co.

Thursday, March 23, 2000

Two judges have ruled in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners’s favor on complaints that Muth Lumber Co. engaged in unfair labor practices while the union tried to organize.

Email newsletter signup

But several recommended solutions in the dispute still depend on the NLRB’s final decision, which could come as early as Friday or next week, if company officials do not file exceptions to court rulings, board spokesperson Laura Atkinson said.

"Because this involves an initial bargaining for a newly-certified union, this kind of situation has a great deal of priority with the agency," Mrs. Atkinson said.

In the meantime, both parties must return to the bargaining table as ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith.

Judge Beckwith granted an injunction in mid-February that orders Muth Lumber not to discourage union activity by threatening to close the plant or fire employees if they engage in union activities.

It also orders the company to meet with the union at reasonable times and places and "desist from engaging in dilatory tactics, insisting that charges be withdrawn as a condition to good faith bargaining and engaging in conduct demonstrating a desire to avoid reaching agreement on a contract with the union ," according to a judgment entry filed in Cincinnati.

Also last month, NLRB administrative law judge Eric Fine issued a 57-page decision on allegations that Muth refused to bargain in good faith, refused to provide information, made it difficult to schedule meetings, threatened to shut down the plant and otherwise thwarted union organization or contract talks.

Fine concluded the activities took place and Muth violated labor laws by retaliating against the union by discouraging its activity and by refusing to meet without a valid impasse in negotiations.

Judge Fine’s suggested remedy to the NLRB included an order for the company to bargain and an extension of the union’s certification for one year after the company begins to bargain in good faith.

In other words, the union has another year after negotiations restart to secure a contract.

Negotiations had been scheduled to restart the first week of March.

In writing his opinion, Judge Fine said he considered Muth’s claims that the business was in poor financial shape due to a boiler fire; that it was having difficulty with high health insurance costs; and that it had informed the union that its wages and benefits were higher than at other area lumber businesses.

However, contract negotiations did not break down over financial differences and proof concerning the area wages was never offered, Fine wrote.

"I am not suggesting that respondent (Muth) be required to offer to the union whatever the union wants ," he wrote.

"Rather, I am recommending to the board that the respondent not submit any proposal, or combination of proposals, which considering the proposals and the circumstances of their submission, including conduct at and away from the bargaining table, show it was not approaching the collective bargaining process with an aim of reaching agreement with the union."

Fine’s recommendations must wait until NLRB’s actual five-member board in Washington, D.C., makes its final determination, but the injunction will remain in place, Mrs. Atkinson said.

"They are required to bargain in the interim, which is what the federal district court order states, in order to preserve the status quo while waiting for the board to rule," she said.

Ron Morgan of Southeastern Employers Association, which represents Muth in the labor dispute, would not comment on the injunction or Judge Fine’s decision.

Workers voted 24-19 on Jan. 27, 1999, to unionize, seeking grievance procedures, seniority rights, wages that accurately reflect work accomplished and insurance with better coverage and lower family costs.