Colorado Judge Allows Suit Against Union to Proceed

Colorado state Judge Victor Reyes issued an order May 17 allowing Rocky Mountain Steel Mills to proceed with a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the United Steelworkers of America.   RMSM is subsidiary of Oregon Steel Mills and has been locked in a labor dispute with USWA since the union went on strike in Oct. 1997.

Reyes’ ordered requires USWA to answer RMSM’s charges that USWA engaged in a campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment of RMSM’s employees, their families and others.  USWA tried unsuccessfully to have the suit dismissed.  The suit contains more than 100 allegations of picket line misconduct and other illegal activities in the Pueblo, Col. area.

“We regard this as a turning point in what has become a long and damaging battle by the Union against our employees and [RMSM].  It is the first time the Union has had to face the prospect of paying significant damages as a result of its corporate campaign against the Company,” said RMSM’s spokeswomen Vicki Tagliafico.

Reyes reportedly approved RMSM’s motion to amend its complaint over USWA’s objections. The amended complaint is significant because it added “compensatory and punitive damages” against the union, according to Tagliafico.  The new complaint also concerns “actions that occurred after the original complaint was filed,” according to Tagliafico.

In Jan. 2000, the Nat’l Labor Relations Board reportedly concluded a three-week trial on USWA’s alleged violations of federal laws prohibiting threatening and intimidating employees. Testimony from more than 80 witnesses against USWA reportedly depicted ongoing violence, threats and racial harassment.  The testimony also reportedly pointed to evidence that union bosses, including the presidents of USWA Local 2101 and Local 3267, were fully aware of the unlawful activities on the picket line and did nothing to stop them.

RMSM’s lawyer Richard Alaniz said, “The trial brought by the NLRB against the Union proved that high-ranking Union officials actually took part in strike violence and were complicit in the lawbreaking. One Union member who was convicted for criminal mischief after causing thousands of dollars in property damage, was even allowed back on the picket line.”

“This lawsuit marks the first time that the Company has sought damages from the Union,” Tagliafico said.  “Even during the worst days of the strike in 1997, the Company was committed to working with the Union to attempt to resolve our differences,” she said.  “Unfortunately, the climate has changed. The international Union’s leaders have continued to put politics above the interest of its members and have focused on harming [RMSM] as a company, rather than putting their members back to work,” she continued.

RMSM seeks reimbursement for physical damages to employee and contractor vehicles suffered as a result of picket line violence.  It also is seeking the cost and expenses of maintaining a private security force to document the USWA’s activity and to protect employees and contractors doing business on the Company’s property.  RMSM also seeks punitive damages for the fear, humiliation and intimidation suffered by employees.

Tagliafico explain the punitive award: “How do you put a price tag on the respect and dignity of [RMSM’s] employees.  There is no amount of money that the Union can pay which will make amends for the racial slurs made by its members, the harassment of employee families and the emotional trauma of crossing that picket line every day.”

USWA also are facing a Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) lawsuit filed by AK Steel.  The lawsuit asks for three times the damages caused and charges USWA with engineering, condoning or tolerating acts of attempted murder, bombings, threats of rape and murder against AK Steel employees and their families.  The allegations number in the hundreds.

“As one reviews all of the various charges against the United Steelworkers of America, it is clear that their strategy of putting their own members out of work for months or years at a time, is not working,” Tagliafico said. “Blame can be laid squarely at the feet of the international leaders.  We hold no ill will against the local Union members in Pueblo who were ordered by out-of-state leaders to go down this destructive path,” she said. [Rocky Mtn. Steel Mills, Media Release 5/24/00; BNA 5/26/00]