Bureau Of National Affairs
Unfair Labor Practices
Case Farms Agrees to Bargain With LIUNA Under Court-Approved Settlement Agreement
By Michelle Amber
Friday, April 27, 2001
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit April 17 issued a consent order that approved a settlement agreement between the National Labor Relations Board and Case Farms of North Carolina Inc. in which the poultry processor agreed to recognize and bargain with the National Poultry Workers, an affiliate of the Laborers' International Union of North America (NLRB v. Case Farms of North Carolina Inc., 4th Cir., No. 96-1402, 96-2566, 4/17/01).
The agreement, which was signed April 9 by Case Farms and April 10 by the NLRB, settles a contempt case brought by the board for the company's failure to abide by a 1997 bargaining order issued by the Fourth Circuit.
Under the agreement, Case Farms must be available to resume bargaining with the union within 10 days of the court's approval. Felipe Lopez, a LIUNA organizer at the plant, told BNA April 25 that the union has filed an information request with the company to prepare for bargaining. Ken Wilson, director of Human Resources for Case Farms, told BNA April 26 that the company currently is trying to establish bargaining dates.
LIUNA first won recognition at a Case Farms poultry plant in Morganton, N.C., in 1995 when employees voted 238-183 for union representation. The company filed objections, but the board overruled them and certified the union. When Case refused to bargain, the board issued a bargaining order that was upheld by the Fourth Circuit in October 1997 (207 DLR A-6, 10/27/97).
In May 1999, the company locked out the workers for one day, Lopez said, adding that three days later it withdrew recognition of the union.
According to LIUNA spokesman Zack Matus, the lockout occurred as negotiations for a first contract were nearing completion. He said that recognition was withdrawn after the company circulated a petition, which employees signed, seeking to oust the union.
Wilson said the employer locked out the workers in an attempt to "apply economic pressure to the union and the employees" to sign a first contract. He explained that bargaining had taken place for 15 months, and the union had rejected two contract proposals. The company announced it would lock out the workers in an effort to get a signed contract, he said.
Wilson said that management withdrew recognition from the union after receiving a petition from the majority of the workers saying they no longer wanted to be represented by the union.
When the company withdrew recognition the union filed charges with the NLRB. Wilson contended that the company was never found guilty of any unfair labor practices. Rather, he said, the company made a business decision to settle the charges and restart the negotiations.
The agreement provides a three-month insulation period during which Case Farms cannot withdraw recognition from the union or lock employees out except in response to a work stoppage or other economic pressure by the union. During the insulation period, management negotiators must be available for bargaining in at least four eight-hour sessions in each 30-day period. Either party may request mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
The agreement also requires the company to post and read a notice in both English and Spanish outlining the provisions of the settlement. The notice will be posted for 60 days, and the notice shall be read to all employees within 10 days.
In addition, because employees have not received a wage increase since 1997, the company agreed to pay each active employee a lump sum of $200. According to LIUNA, there are about 500 active employees on the payroll, so the lump-sum payment will cost the company around $100,000.
If the company is found to have engaged in any violations of the agreement within the next 12 months, it will be required to pay $25,000 in liquidated damages to the board. According to the court, this represents a compromised amount of the agency's attorneys' fees in the litigation on this case to date.
The consent order was signed by Judges Karen J. Williams, M. Blane Michael, and Joseph R. Goodwin.
Copyright © 2001 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.