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Federal Panel Claims Cooper Breaks Labor Law

According to a federal labor panel, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is violating federal law by refusing to bargain with a union elected to represent workers at its Cedar Rapids, Iowa, distribution center.

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From The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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FINDLAY, OH — According to a federal labor panel, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is violating federal law by refusing to bargain with a union elected to represent workers at its Cedar Rapids, Iowa, distribution center.

Warehouse workers at Cooper Tire voted for union representation by Local 1634 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers last December. The Findlay, Ohio, tire maker ignored the union’s requests to bargain, according to Tad Gusta, international representative for the IBEW, refusing to return phone calls or respond to messages.

The union filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

In a March 25 ruling, a three-member panel of the NLRB approved a motion for summary judgment against Cooper Tire for refusal to bargain. The motion had been requested by the NLRB’s general counsel.

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Gusta said the favorable ruling is a hollow victory because Cooper Tire continues to refuse to bargain, and federal labor law does not impose any sanctions on Cooper Tire for its continued abuse of the law.

“The employees have spoken. This simply shows that federal law does not have any teeth,” Gusta said.

He has discussed his concerns with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), about the issue, receiving support for his view from Harkin.

Iowa Federation of Labor President Mark Smith said companies’ willingness to ignore labor laws appears to be growing.

“About half the time you win an election, and a year later the company still has not agreed to a contract,” Smith said. He said companies use the delay to weaken union support in their work force by terminating union supporters, hiring union opponents, or similar tactics, eventually telling workers they should decertify the union because it is ineffective.

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The NLRB panel ruled that the initial waiting period for a decertification election has not yet started, and will not begin until Cooper Tire “begins to bargain in good faith.”

Cooper Tire Communications Manager Debra Crow said in a prepared statement that the company refused to bargain because a majority of employees did not vote for the union in an earlier election, “and we think that election accurately reflected the wishes of our employees.”

“We don’t believe it was fair to have them go through a second stressful event in a short period of time and that doing this skewed the results,” Crow said.

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Gusta said the earlier election was actually a draw, not a majority vote for the company. A second election was required by the NLRB because Cooper Tire improperly told employees they would lose their annual bonuses if they brought in the union.

The short period of time Crow referred to was actually 11 months, Gusta said.

Copyright 2004, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. All Rights Reserved.

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