UNFAIRLY LOCKS OUT By CROWN WE All NO ON STRIKE miwousafosterxentytatt . PONTOMOMPUtilleMOVAMVOINIMit Jay Hamburger undertaken to protect Crown’s property from its workforce when William Tyler, Crown Pasadena’s human resources manager, sent a letter addressed to OCAW secretary-treasurer Joe Campbell one day after the lockout began. The letter closed with the words: “When you accept our February 3 complete [contract] proposal, we will end the lockout.” Fortunately for Crown, it does not need conclusive proof of sabotage to justify its actions with the National Labor Relations Board, the appointed federal board that adjudicates unfair labor practices under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. An NLRB investigation concluded: “No finding has been made that any bargaining employees in fact engaged in such sabotage activities, however [emphasis added], as Crown has submitted substantial evidence in support of its good-faith belief that such is the case, the lockout was not unlawful.” It was the first of many rejections the union would receive from of the NLRB. In total, six union charges with eighteen separate issues, ranging from bad-faith bargaining to using 401K savings accounts as economic weapons, were rejected by Michael Dunn, regional director of the NLRB’s Fort Worth office. The union has appealed the rulings to the NLRB’s Washington, D.C., headquar ters, in the hopes that NLRB board members would consider a year to be the difference between a defensive lockout and union busting. “Federal labor law is like ice-hockey,” said Reuben Guttman, a Washington, D.C.-based labor lawyer representing the union before the NLRB. “Breaking the law is like tripping someoneit’s illegal but you do it anyway. There is a set penalty.” Union officials are not overly optimistic about the NLRB. In 1996, the NLRB reversed on appeal only 2.9 percent of decisions made in regional offices. Instead of relying on the government to defend its interests, the union went on the offensive against Crown. Backed by the national AFL-CIO, the OCAW launched a boycott. “If a company is going to take wood to its own worker family, it’s capable of gouging all kinds of folks,” said Richard Leonard. OCAW Pasadena Local President Tom Gentry said that the boycott is relatively invisible in Texas, because the company’s retail outlets are located on the East Coast. “But Crown is posted on the national AFL-CIO boycott list and that list is circulated to a lot of local unions,” Gentry said. According to Gentry, unions on the East Coast have picketed and leafleted the company’s retail outlets, and although Crown profits are up, Gentry said that he believes the boycott is working. He cites articles that ran in the Houston Chronicle and the Pasadena Citizen. “Their profits are up,” Gentry said, “but their retail sales are down.” And, indeed, press reports have Crown’s earnings at $18.6 million for the first six months in 1997compared to a $10 million loss that was posted in the first six months of 1996. Crown spokesman Joseph Coale told Houston media outlets in early August that lower crude costs and favorable refining margins resulted in increased profits for the company. But as the OCAW’ s Gentry noted, profits at Crown’s 337 retail outlets in the Southeast are down to $4.3 million for the second quarter of 1997, compared to $10.5 million for the second quarter of 1996. “Maybe it’s just my optimistic reading of the story,” Gentry said. “But their profits at the stations we’re boycotting are down.” Beyond the boycott, the OCAW local is forging alliances with as many of those affected by or concerned about the company’ as possible: neighbors, workers, customers, even government regulators. After a.year and a half, Crown has found itself literally surrounded by adversaries: the plant’s residential neighbors and environmental activists who had already been concerned about the harm the refinery was doing to the environment and public health. Crown’s Pasadena facility is a perfect target for a campaign focusing on environmental issues. In the past six years, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission has fined the refinery four times for a total of $571,325. TNRCC spokesman Terry Hadleyin an understatement typical of the agency responsible for issuing permits and protecting the environmentdescribed Crown’s dubious record: “The fact that there have been four enforcement penalties in six years is not a good indication.” And between 1994 and 1996, Crown’s Pasadena refinery was hit by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for $124,250 in fines. Many OSHA violations were determined to be potentially life-threatening, and included failure to maintain equipment safely, failure to investigate a gas leak, and inadequate AUGUST 29, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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