Wednesday, June 29th, 2011
Coldwater factory to pay employees in settlement of labor board case
By Shelley Grieshop
COLDWATER - A local company has paid more than $81,000 in employee backpay for obstructing workers' attempts to unionize last year.
Basic Grain Products of Coldwater also agreed to orders from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to post notices in the plant and hold employee meetings about the violations and terms for compliance.
Information on the settlement of all 21 charges filed against the company was released this week by the NLRB. Basic Grain has complied with terms of the settlement, NLRB spokeswoman Debra Jackson said.
Basic Grain officials were not available for comment when contacted this week by The Daily Standard.
The complaints were filed against the company between April and December of 2010 by five former workers and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers (BCTWGM) union based in Cleveland. Four of the workers who filed charges were fired and a fifth was laid off between April and June of 2010.
Three of the 21 charges were withdrawn and six others were dismissed prior to a mutual agreement reached earlier this year by the NLRB and the Canada-based company, which manufactures snacks such as rice cakes at the local plant.
The 12 remaining charges stemmed from actions taken by several plant employees and company president/owner Ken Aleong to discourage workers from organizing a union, according to the NLRB. Basic Grain employees in July voted against joining the union; a re-vote in August - ordered by the NLRB - produced the same outcome.
The company employs more than 100 workers at the Coldwater factory on Vine Street.
The violations against Basic Grain include threats to close the plant and/or terminate workers, interrogations and surveillance of employees, and promises of increased benefits and conditions if workers refrained from union activities.
One of the allegations accused the company's human resource manager of observing employees entering a union meeting at the Richardson-Bretz building in Celina and writing down license plate numbers of nearby parked cars.
Other charges include lavishing employees with birthday/appreciation cakes, increasing overtime, gift cards, pizza and employee of the month programs as rewards for not unionizing.
According to documents obtained by the newspaper, Aleong on July 21 held a mandatory employee meeting where he interrogated workers about union activities, solicited complaints and grievances and promised increased benefits to discourage a union.
During the July gathering the company reportedly distributed a handout citing 27 reasons workers should vote no at a union election meeting later that week.
Terry Freeman, a representative of the union, said workers were too scared last summer to vote in favor of organizing. He believes the labor board should have done more to protect workers' rights.
"Everybody was afraid ... people had been terminated. The company blew away the opportunity for a fair election," he said.
Freeman said the company should have been forced to re-instate the former workers, including the union's "point man," Jerry Orick, who was placed on indefinite lay-off.
"They (Basic Grain) fell short of putting those people back to work," he said.
Orick was allocated the highest amount in backpay - $29,154 and interest. When contacted Tuesday, he refused to comment.