Tuesday, December 3, 2002
Union Destroyed Workers’ Livelihoods, Lawyer Tells Ninth Circuit
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A union representing garment and textile workers destroyed the livelihoods of some of the workers it was supposed to represent by driving their employer out of business, the attorney for 25 employees told a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel yesterday.
Pasadena lawyer Linda S. Klibanow urged the court to reinstate her clients’ suit charging the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, or UNITE, with violating its duty of fair representation towards the employees of Sorrento Coats. The San Bernardino outerware manufacturer went bankrupt four years ago after it lost its sole supplier of work.
The supplier, M. Shapro & Co., was pressured into ending its relationship by UNITE, the plaintiffs allege, in retaliation for an effort by the Sorrento employees to decertify the union.
But UNITE’s attorney, Michael Rubin of San Francisco’s Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain, urged the court to uphold Judge Christina Snyder’s grant of summary judgment. Snyder, of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, ruled that all of the union’s conduct was protected by the First Amendment or by federal labor law.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Schwarzer of the Northern District of California, sitting on the Ninth Circuit panel by designation, questioned Klibanow as to why she believed UNITE’s actions were not a “rational response” after Sorrento tried to withdraw its recognition of the union and refused to sign a collective bargaining agreement.
Klibanow claimed the union misrepresented its activities to the workers, telling them it was not urging Shapiro to take its work away, when that was precisely what it was doing so. Those activities were acts of “deliberate destruction” of the plant where some of the plaintiffs had worked for more than 20 years.
Klibanow acknowledged that there was no clear precedent for holding a union responsible for the impact of a secondary boycott on its own represented workers. But there was a “plethora” of support for the proposition that a union has a duty to represent its workers in good faith, she said.
But Rubin said the district judge had heard all of the workers’ arguments and found no evidence of bad faith or illegality on the part of UNITE.
After court, Klibanow spoke to reporters on the sidewalk in front of the Ninth Circuit’s Pasadena courthouse while some of the plaintiffs held up signs reading “UNITE Punishes Workers Who Exercise Their Civil Rights” and “UNITE=$4 UNITE, UNITE [Does Not Equal] Jobs for Workers.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company