Members’ Suit Against UAW Proceeds

U.S. Dist. Judge Paul Gadola in Flint, Mich., delayed ruling on whether a high-profile lawsuit filed by 142 United Auto Workers members against their union and General Motors should proceed and postponed further arguments in the case until Mar. 1. Gadola heard arguments Friday from GM and the UAW that the lawsuit alleging collusion between them to extend a 1997 strike at a Pontiac truck plant was filed long after a six-month statute of limitations. GM also argued that labor negotiations and bargaining are outside the purview of the court and should be regulated only by the Nat’l Labor Relations Bd., if at all.

The members’ attorney, Harold Dunne, argued the members didn’t know of the alleged collusion and breach of representation by GM and the UAW until this summer, which explained the delay in their filing of the suit. Dunne added that for the court to dismiss the suit was tantamount to “sanctioning criminal conduct by this huge national corporation and this huge union.” GM, the UAW and UAW Local 594 in Pontiac seek to dismiss the $550-million lawsuit before it moves to the discovery phase.

The lawsuit, which piggybacks on a federal criminal probe, charges that top UAW and GM officials conspired to prolong by two months a 1997 strike at GM’s Pontiac Truck and Bus plant while bargaining for $200,000 in bogus overtime payments and jobs for union bosses’ relatives. The strike lasted 87 days and cost the average hourly UAW member $10,000 to $20,000, according to the suit filed in Aug. 2000.  The U.S. Dep’t of Labor and the FBI have investigated allegations of improper payouts and nepotism at Local 594. Their findings have led to an investigation by a grand jury in Detroit.

To bolster their contention that the members knew of the alleged illegal payouts and nepotism as early as 1997 or 1998, GM and the UAW attorneys read from about 40 different leaflets, newsletters and grievances filed by hundreds of members within the Pontiac plant. That plant remains GM’s only UAW local without a new contract. “This mountain of evidence shows the workers were well aware of what they allege was going on,” said UAW attorney Samuel McKnight. “These issues were the object of leaflets and discussion in union meetings in 1997 and 1998. The (six-month) statute of limitations exists so that stale conflicts such as this can’t come out three years later to disturb our society.”

Gadola said GM and UAW might have shown some of the members knew about the alleged incidents “but hadn’t answered whether union members should have known these things prolonged the strike, a key aspect of the plaintiff’s case.”

Dunne said members’ complaints about the hiring of Todd Fante and Gordon Campbell, two relatives of union bosses, is not barred because workers only recently realized that grievances they filed with Local 594 would not be fairly adjudicated by the union. The lawsuits allege Fante and Campbell were not qualified for the skilled-trades jobs they received. [Det. Free Press 02/03/01]