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SMART Gets 28 Laid-Off Union Hopefuls Their Jobs Back

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Laid-off workers in Tucson have scored a victory in court after a federal judge ordered their former employer, Greenbriar Rail Services, to reinstate 28 employees.  

U.S. District Court Judge Frank Zapata also ordered the company to begin negotiations with SMART, the union which was trying to mount an organizing drive when the company shut down their Tucson facility.  The union’s NLRB complaint claims the attempt to organize was met with threats and retaliation:  

A petition for injunctive relief the National Labor Relations Board filed in federal court in Tucson in February on behalf of the workers claimed company management attempted to put down the unionizing efforts through interrogation, surveillance, solicitation of complaints against pro-union employees, promise of benefits to those opposed to the union and threats that going union would cost jobs through a loss of business in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

Zapata’s order details the types of anti-union hostility the company has been accused of, including issuing disciplinary notices to pro-union employees for discussing nonwork-related activity about the unionization effort with co-workers during work hours. Fellow employees, however, were not disciplined for their nonwork-related activities while on the clock.

“We knew that could happen,” said Jesus Omar Ramos one of the laid-off workers involved in the drive to organize.

The risks in trying to organize were known, he said, because the company displayed open hostility toward unions.

“Before that would happen, they said they would shut down the plant,” said Ramos, 28.

Greenbriar officials claim the facility closure was due to economics and had nothing to do with union organizing:

“Our Tucson facility lacked sufficient work. As a result we were required to cease operations in Tucson in December 2013,” Greenbrier vice president for external relations Jack Isselmann said in an emailed statement. “At that time we offered continued employment to Tucson employees at other Greenbrier facilities, including company-paid relocation for the employees and their families.

Judge Zapata rejected this argument and pointed to 2013 when employees were called into anti-union meetings:

Zapata’s order contradicts those claims, recounting episodes in June and July 2013 when Greenbrier officials called an employee meeting to warn workers that the company’s largest customer was anti-union.

About the same time, according to court documents, Greenbrier officials presented a new proposal to that customer that included increased rates unless volumes increased.

The customer declined to renew the agreement, and subsequently stopped sending work to the Tucson facility, opting instead for a different Greenbrier site.

Union officials argued the rate proposal was a deliberate pretext for closing the Tucson facility.

“We took that as union animus,” Suydam said.

Greenbriar officials say they will appeal the order.  


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