Million-Dollar Suit Offers Union Cautionary Tale In Picket Targets

Labor groups wondering why construction materials businesses resist organizing attempts, or hold unions to the letter of the law on how bargaining units


Labor groups wondering why construction materials businesses resist organizing attempts, or hold unions to the letter of the law on how bargaining units are defined and representation votes handled, should examine a current case favoring Aggregate Industries-Central Region. The subject of a National Labor Relations Board decision published in late September, it might be the first case of a union picketing a major concrete operator in multiple markets to force representation at a newly acquired plant.

In his decision, NLRB Administrative Law Judge Michael Rosas finds that Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local 414 engaged in unlawful picketing and strikes against Aggregate Industries-Central Region’s northern Indiana operations during an AprilÛJuly 2007 period. His ruling supports contentions in a lawsuit the company has filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Ft. Wayne Division, seeking reimbursement from the union of $1 million-plus in damages and legal costs tied to unfair labor practices.

The suit charges that Local 414 sought to apply a collective bargaining agreement (May 2003ÛApril 2008) covering 11 drivers at Angola and Wolcottville ready mixed plants to employees of Klink Concrete, a nonunion, Waterloo, Ind., operator whose assets Aggregate Industries acquired in early April. Aggregate Industries hired five Klink drivers, raising their pay and benefit levels to those of Local 414-represented counterparts. The Teamsters filed grievances on the Klink representation matter, plus alleged contract violations related to Aggregate Industries’ transfer of an idle Angola plant truck to the Klink location and use of an Angola supervisor for two hours of forklift duty despite a bargaining unit member’s availability.

After a joint management and union committee deadlocked on arbitration measures, Local 414 commenced 84 days of picketing at the two Aggregate Industries plants whose drivers it represents, and seven other northern Indiana ready mixed operations with Teamsters Local 364-represented drivers. Ambulatory picketing took place at Aggregate Industries-Central Region’s Kalamazoo, Mich., headquarters; Battle Creek and Chelsea, Mich., aggregate operations; and, sister facilities in Minneapolis. Amid scattered picketing and spot or sustained work stoppages, Aggregate Industries management pressed Local 414 officials for terms of resolution. To advance the grievance regarding relocation of an existing truck to Klink, the union made a preposterous request for sales, payroll, and customer data covering months of Angola, Wolcotville, and Waterloo plant operation. Tracking a series of Local 414 and company exchanges, Judge Rosas noted how certain grievances were not resolved due to union officials’ refusal to arbitrate, even on matters as trivial as two hours’ back-pay to a bargaining unit employee.

Picketing ceased in mid-July with a preliminary injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Theresa Springmann responding to an NLRB petition on Aggregate Industries’ behalf. Judge Springmann will hear the case detailed in the company’s subsequent lawsuit, which contends that the picketing disrupted work of Aggregate Industries’ employees, customers and suppliers, and spurred cancellation of business from customers seeking to avoid picketing at their own sites.

The NLRB and U.S. District Court documents show that on top of suffering business losses, Aggregate Industries-Central consumed management and staff resources that might otherwise have been invested in training to improve safety, customer service or other skills that top-notch drivers can use to their advantage when dealing with most any ready mixed concrete employer, union or not.

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