Bureau Of National Affairs
LIUNA Organizers Strike for Week; Return to Work Without Resolution
By Michelle Amber
Tuesday, April 1, 1997
Organizers for the Laborers' International Union of North America, who struck their employer for a week over union recognition, returned to their jobs March 24 without a resolution of the dispute. An attorney for the organizers, however, currently is attempting to resolve the dispute.
While LIUNA agreed to grant voluntary recognition to the Federation of Union Representatives on behalf of most of its organizers, the strike occurred after the international union refused to include three project staff in the bargaining unit, and did not renew the services of two of them. LIUNA also later withdrew its offer of voluntary recognition after the organizers walked off their jobs.
During the dispute, the union's assistant organizing director, Duane Stillwell, submitted his resignation. While LIUNA has said that Stillwell's resignation was for “personal reasons,” a published report, citing his resignation letter, said he hoped his action “would force an unbelieving, naive group of organizers to come to their senses. I was disappointed. I only wanted to bring victory and recognition to LIUNA; the episodes of the last few weeks, I know, have simply brought despair.”
The dispute is seen as an embarrassment for the union, whose president, Arthur A. Coia, heads up the AFL-CIO Executive Council's organizing committee.
But in a March 31 statement to BNA, Coia said that “the union's commitment to organizing and its ongoing campaigns are solid and unchanged. The Laborers' will continue on this path, and will remain in the forefront of the labor movement's organizing efforts.”
“In no way does a change in departmental personnel signify any less of a commitment to continued progress or success in our organizing efforts,” Coia said.
The union's more than two dozen organizers on Feb. 27 demanded that LIUNA recognize FOUR as their collective bargaining agent. On March 12, LIUNA proposed that the bargaining unit include lead organizers, organizers, organizers-in-training, and organizing department researchers but exclude project staff, employees who are hired for 60 to 90 days to work on specific projects.
At that time there were 11 project staff. LIUNA proposed promoting eight of them to full-time organizers-in training but did not offer to make the three others full-time employees.
The organizers replied in a March 13 letter that the proposed bargaining unit was not acceptable unless it was altered to include, as organizers-in-training, all individuals who were employed as of March 11 as project staff.
The letter further stated that “in a clear attempt to weaken and punish our efforts at collective action, three members of our unit were illegally released from employment and excluded from the unit description proposed by LIUNA . These illegal and outrageous attacks on our union insult our previous efforts to display good faith and will accordingly be met with an unfair labor practice work stoppage.”
The letter also said that Julio Escalante and Brendan Sharkey, who were working on a construction campaign in Las Vegas, must be granted organizer-in-training status and included in the bargaining unit. The organizers also demanded that Roman Martinez, who is working in the Los Angeles Asbestos Campaign, also be included in the bargaining unit.
According to LIUNA spokesman David Roscow, the union did not renew the services of Escalante and Sharkey, who had been employed for their allotted time, because there was an operational decision to reduce the staffing on the Las Vegas project. He added that Martinez is still employed on the Los Angeles project and will work until his assignment is over.
Nearly a week after they walked out, the organizers offered to return to work if the following conditions were met:
“FOUR reserves the right to pursue Brendan Sharkey's unfair labor practice [that he was illegally terminated] through the National Labor Relations Board.
“The granting of voluntary recognition, as articulated in LIUNA's March 12th proposal, with the addition of Julio Escalante and Roman Martinez as organizers in training.
“Receipt by FOUR of date and time of first bargaining session, as well as the names of LIUNA's bargaining representative.
“No further layoffs until a layoff policy has been written as part of a signed union contract.”
In a March 19 reply, the union's general counsel advised the organizers that their conditions were not acceptable and the union therefore was withdrawing its offer of voluntary recognition. The next day the organizers made an unconditional offer to return to work which the union accepted. Workers returned to their jobs March 24.
Robert Sweeney, an attorney for FOUR, said the organizers offered to return to work as a “sign of good faith.”
He added that their primary concern is for the unorganized workers they are trying to organize but at the same time they want to “be treated fairly.”
Sweeney, who said he was in the process of negotiating with the international to resolve the issue, declined to discuss the dispute further.
Copyright © 1997 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.