Labor board asks Novelis to negotiate with union without a new vote

Nearly 600 workers at the Novelis plant in Oswego may have a union after all.
Oswego County (WSYR) - Nearly 600 workers at the Novelis plant in Oswego may have a union after all.

In February, an effort to join the United Steelworkers failed by 15 votes. But, a review of the company's conduct found serious violations.

Now, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board is asking that Novelis be ordered to recognize and bargain with the union outright, without another vote.

An 11-page report outlines complaints that some workers at Novelis were interrogated about union membership and threatened that the plant would close, wages would be cut and daily work would become more difficult if they supported a union.

Perhaps the most damaging complaint involved a redacted board letter shown to employees, falsely inferring that the union was actively trying to force the company to take away specific benefits.

"We never filed that charge. It's a falsified document that the company produced," said United Steelworkers Union representative Jim Ridgeway. "It's not even the same font size. It appears that it was cut and pasted and handed out to the people. Enough of them believed it that it certainly cost us the election."

The NLRB's General Counsel found the conduct to be so serious that "there is only a slight possibility of traditional remedies erasing their effects and conducting a fair election."

The review goes on to say that employees "would be protected better by issuance of a bargaining order."

"I've been on the road as a rep. for 24 years, but I've actually got 41 years in the labor movement and this is, and I've been involved with multiple organizing campaigns, this is the first bargaining order I've ever seen," said Ridgeway.

While the union calls the decision a rare victory for workers reserved for the most serious violations, the company has a different perspective.

A statement from a spokesperson for Novelis suggests the company is prepared to fight the case: "The filing means the Board has reviewed the unfair labor practice charges and believes enough information has been provided from both sides to merit a hearing. It is a standard practice and not unusual. Novelis leadership has and will continue to communicate in a positive, open and lawful manner with employees as we focus our efforts on safe production during this exciting time of growth for the Oswego plant."

The spokesperson also said Novelis is "fully prepared to defend our actions."

Professor Steven Abraham from SUNY Oswego has made the Novelis case part of his class discussion.

"If the union loses an election, the board can order the company to bargain with the union, but two conditions need to be met," Abraham said. "The union had to have a majority of support at one time and the union has to prove that the Unfair Labor Practice charges were so egregious that a fair election can never be held."

All the professor's research shows that an order to bargain outright is "extremely rare and reserved for somewhat extraordinary cases".

He also says the board rarely disagrees with the General Counsel.

The company must file an answer to the complaint for the board by next Tuesday. A hearing date is already scheduled for next month.

The NLRB General Counsel's full review is available in the attached document.

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