Judge mulls ‘Freightliner Five’ appeal
By Sara Gregory
WINSTON SALEM ó Reinstating the union membership of five workers fired from Cleveland’s Freightliner plant would make the union stronger, a lawyer for the “Freightliner Five” argued Monday.
Travis Payne said the disagreement between the five he represents and the union’s leadership is just an example of a “messy” but thriving democracy.
In the coming days, U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty Jr. will decide whether to reinstate the workers as union members as they appeal within the union.
Beaty heard arguments from both sides Monday after a lawsuit filed by the former workers last month asserted their expulsion from United Auto Workers Local 3520 was unfair.
The five all are former members of the local union’s bargaining committee. Three of the five ó Glenna Swinford, Franklin Torrence and Robert Whiteside ó were present Monday. Grady Allen Bradley and David Crisco were unable to attend.
The conflict dates back to the Cleveland plant’s contract renegotiation that started in February 2007.
Workers rejected a new contract and the existing contract expired March 30. In early April, the bargaining committee voted to approve a strike that was not authorized by the union’s national headquarters.
The membership ultimately approved the new contract on a second vote.
Since the brief strike, the five say they have been treated unfairly.
Representing the UAW Local 3520, Seth Cohen said local union President George Drexel wasn’t acting in bad faith.
“He treated everyone the same,” Cohen said.
The five were later accused of “unbecoming conduct” for their role in the strike. A union committee trial in November rejected the charge by a 6-1 vote.
And in February, the five were removed from the union. They were told this was for failing to pay their dues, but the five said they never were told what they owed despite having asked for the amount and having given the local treasurer a check for $1,200 to cover any outstanding dues.
Payne said this was an effort to silence the former workers, but Cohen said all union members know their dues responsibilities.
The judge now will decide whether to reinstate the workers as union members. The five also are appealing the process to the national union headquarters.
Contact Sara Gregory at 704-797-4257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.