EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Business

July 10, 2007

Workers fired for union organizing get checks in the mail - four years later

Eight people who were fired and one who was suspended in 2003 for trying to organize a labor union at a company in Lawrence recently received a combined $88,834 in back pay following a ruling by a federal labor panel.



In May, the National Labor Relations Board mailed payments, which ranged from a low of $111 to a high of $15,002, to workers who had been involved in a failed attempt to form a union at Telcom USA, a company that made plastic lawn ornaments and was located in South Lawrence. The company has since left the area and attempts to reach executives were unsuccessful.



The firings four years ago were unlawful retribution for union organizing activities, said Carl Proper, communications director of the New England Joint Board of UNITE HERE, a union that represents many area textile and restaurant workers and which tried to help organize the union at Telcom.



"We lost the election, and ... they fired us," said Orlando Jimenez, 35, of Beacon Avenue, Lawrence, who received $13,344 in the settlement. He said employees at the company had tried to work with managers in 2002 to improve conditions at the plant but were ignored in their efforts.



"We tried to talk to them," he said. "We kept pushing and pushing."



He said a foundry used to make the lawn ornaments was extremely hot and difficult to operate, leading to injuries.



That year, a group of the workers tried to organize at the company, which also had offices in Nashua, N.H., and Tewksbury.



UNITE agreed to represent the employees, and filed a petition in October 2002 with the NLRB for an election to decide if workers wanted to be represented by a union.



In November of that year, an election was held, but the effort failed, on a vote of 52 to 47.



The union filed objections to the election, based on the company having filed an inaccurate list of employees eligible to vote in the election. According to Proper, 20 of the employees who voted did not work at the plant.



The NLRB held a hearing, ruling in favor of the union, and ordered a new election for June 2003.



But in May 2003, the company laid off 41 employees. UNITE charged that those layoffs were in retaliation for union organizing activities, but an administrative law judge later found that only eight of the layoffs were in retaliation for union organizing.



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