Freightliner workers sue for back pay and benefits

Freightliner workers sue for back pay and benefits

2010-09-02 16:22:19

Seven months after laid off Freightliner workers won back pay and benefits in arbitration, none of them have received a dime.

On Tuesday, four laid off Freightliner workers filed a class action lawsuit in federal court to enforce the arbitration award.

Back in January, arbitrator Robert B. Moberly, a labor law expert and professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, found Daimler Trucks North America in violation of its 2006 labor agreement, which required the company to make 70 percent of the M-2 business class truck at its Mount Holly plant through April 2, 2010.

Moberly ordered DTNA to compensate roughly 900 employees laid off from the Mount Holly plant in October 2008 and March 2009, during which time the company was outsourcing M-2 production to its plant in Santiago, Mexico.

DTNA and the United Auto Workers were charged with settling on the amount owed to workers. Union officials say they are still working diligently to come to terms with DTNA.

But that effort has not been speedy enough for Charles R. Hall Jr., John O’Neill Jr., Timothy L. Phillips and Charlie R. Wooten, who sued both DTNA and the UAW.

“[B]y the time the Arbitration Award was determined, many of said individuals and their families were financially ruined and could ill afford yet further and additional delay in the enforcement of the Arbitration Award by Defendant UAW or the continued failure of Defendant Daimler Trucks to make them whole…,” plaintiff’s attorney Chet Rabon stated in the complaint.

DTNA spokeswoman Maria McCullough said Tuesday that the company “has not been served with a complaint and we are unable to comment at this time.”

On the UAW website, Local 5285 president Ricky McDowell said the UAW Heavy Truck Department is “working hard to resolve this settlement. The issue of total manpower hours per truck is still in dispute.”

According to the complaint, affected union workers don’t know when the arbitration award will be paid and they don’t know the amount to be paid. However, plaintiffs say McDowell told them in April the amount was about “$34 million and growing.”

Hall, O’Neill, Phillips and Wooten were all laid off in October 2008 after working at the Mount Holly truck manufacturing plant for more than 20 years.

Union officials have announced the recall of as many as 273 workers to the Mount Holly plant as production increased following ratification of a new three-year agreement April 17. The plaintiffs have not been recalled, according to the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs say DTNA also failed to comply with the arbitrator’s order to increase production in Mount Holly to 70 percent of all M-2 trucks sold in North America as required by the 2006 collective bargaining agreement, which expired in April.

Had production increased prior to April, any recalled workers would have been entitled to at least six months of company-paid health insurance, according to the complaint.

The new labor contract does not include the 70 percent requirement, but does guarantee baseline production of at least 24 trucks per day in Mount Holly before any M-2 trucks are produced elsewhere.

According to the complaint, UAW breached its duty of fair representation by failing to expeditiously enforce the arbitration award.

“These workers who were laid off from Freightliner … have faced some really severe hardships. And in many instances, those have been financially crippling hardships, including foreclosures of their homes, loss of cars, other assets, things like that,” Rabon said Wednesday.

“It’s our goal through this lawsuit to do everything we can to recover for these workers all that they are entitled to …,” Rabon said.

In his ruling, Moberly retained jurisdiction over the settlement should the UAW and DTNA fail to come to terms on the arbitration award.

But the lawsuit asks the court to take jurisdiction, to appoint a “Special Master” to determine damages owed to plaintiffs of the class action and to enter a judgment against DTNA and UAW for payment of those damages with interest.

Gary Casteel, director of UAW Region 8, said Tuesday the union is still negotiating with DTNA on the correct amount of the settlement.

“We’ve not referred it back to the arbitrator,” he said.

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