A labor protest by a group of about 50 workers marching outside Dana Inc.’s Toledo Driveline plant, which supplies axles for Jeeps made at the Toledo Assembly Complex, ended after about eight hours Wednesday.
Workers said they were protesting the lack of a union contract and plant working conditions. But the protest actually was connected to an inter-union dispute between the United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers union over who was going to organize the plant, labor leaders and the company said.
Dana said production was not interrupted at the plant, which employs 200 workers making axles for the new Jeep Wrangler “JL” model now in production at Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles’ Toledo Assembly Complex.
The protest at Dana ended at around noon after the Steelworkers union ceded the organizing rights to the plant to the UAW.
“It was our understanding that we were supposed to be the union that organized the bargaining unit at the plant,” said Pat Gallagher, Sub-district 1 director for the United Steelworkers. “But under an agreement between the unions we are going to acquiesce to the UAW and step aside and let them organize the plant and get recognition.”
Mr. Gallagher said the Steelworkers union was dismayed at how things turned out.
“We had people in the plant supporting us. But rather than go through a protracted labor dispute, we believe it’s in the best interest of the people that supported us that we would let the UAW have this plant.”
“I’m very disappointed personally and our organization is very disappointed,” Mr. Gallagher said.
A statement issued Wednesday afternoon by Dana said, “Earlier today, the United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers agreed that the UAW will have the right to organize Dana’s Toledo facility. According to Dana’s neutrality agreement with the UAW and USW, a neutral third party must verify that a majority of our Toledo hourly employees wish to be represented by the UAW.
“As we previously stated, competing unions were soliciting our employees to become members. Dana has a neutrality agreement with both the UAW and the USW that requires the two unions to agree which union will represent the Toledo plant and organize our workers.
“Dana respects the right of our people to organize. While we are disappointed that [Wednesday’s] completely unnecessary labor action took place, we are pleased that the two unions have come to an agreement and that the matter was resolved quickly to protect the best interests of our people, our customers, and our shareholders,” the statement read.
Police were on scene, but there were no attempts to disrupt picketing by protesters, who allowed cars to go past on their way to work.
Here at the new Dana driveline plant. Workers attempting to unionize in the plant are striking outside. pic.twitter.com/R09ST9VDUI— Zack Lemon (@zack_lemon) February 14, 2018
Rich Rankin, regional director of UAW Region 2-B, which includes northwest Ohio, also issued a statement afterwards that said workers at Dana had reached out to the UAW for representation several months earlier.
“During the last few weeks, a majority of the workers authorized the UAW to represent them in collective bargaining with the company. Today Dana agreed to follow the parties’ agreement toward recognition of the UAW as the exclusive bargaining representative of the workers. The parties will then begin contract negotiations,” the statement said.
“Workers are proud of the work they do supplying axles for Jeep and look forward to their opportunity to sit at the table with Dana. We want to thank the United Steelworkers for standing with us throughout this process. Their assistance helped bring this effort to a successful conclusion,” it added.
At the Dana plant early Wednesday, Mr. Rankin said that employees had made up half of the picketers while the rest were members of other UAW locals.
The UAW regional director said that over 70 percent of Dana workers had signed union cards agreeing to be represented by the UAW. If correct, that is more than needed under labor laws to force a unionization vote. But a company also can voluntarily recognize a union as the official representative if it so chooses, and a union has cards signed by over 50 percent of the workforce. Dana has indicated it would be willing to do voluntary recognition.
The company has 20 plants nationwide that are represented by either the UAW or the Steelworkers. The Machinists union represents one plant.
While the UAW claimed to have signed union authorization cards, the Steelworkers also claimed to have signed cards from workers wanting the USW as their bargaining representative. Some Steelworker supporters also were outside the plant Wednesday.
As part of its exit from bankruptcy protection in 2007, Dana signed agreements with both unions, promising neutrality when it came to any organizing attempts. Had Dana recognized the UAW as workers’ bargaining agent, it would have violated those agreements, a company spokesman said.
“We’re frequently named one of the most trustworthy companies. We want to follow our agreements and contracts. It’s disappointing a labor issue arose, but we're glad it was resolved,” Dana spokesman Jeff Cole said.
Joseph Slater, a professor of labor law at the University of Toledo, said Dana was correct in refusing to recognize either of the two unions. “It would be illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, which would prevent an employer from recognizing a union in that context,” he said.
Mr. Slater added it’s unusual now to see organizing disputes between two members of the AFL-CIO, which has an internal jurisdictional dispute mechanism.
“You do still see these jurisdictional disputes in the public sector where you have big public sector unions like the National Education Association and the [American Federation of Teachers]. But you see it less so in the private sector.”
While picketing took place, there was no plant walkout. Dana said about 25 workers did call in sick yesterday and were thought to be part of the protest.
During the protest, some workers said they were tired of long hours and poor conditions in the factory. Many began work in the plant as temporary employees, then saw their pay cut when they became Dana employees, said Shane Ware, a plant worker there since January, 2017.
“Twenty four days straight — so far most of these people have been working with no days off,” Mr. Ware said. He added that, despite the conditions, several workers say they like their job and want to do the work.
“I’m here for the long haul. I didn’t come on board to look for another job,” Mr. Ware said.
Other employees said the company has not followed consistent procedures or policies internally, making it hard to know what is expected of them and when they will have time off to themselves.
Jodi Tinson, a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles spokesman, released a statement saying that, “We’re pleased that the two parties have reached an agreement, allowing production of the Jeep Wrangler to continue.”
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