Merry-Go-Round workers to vote on joining union ILGWU disputes voters' eligibility

January 10, 1993|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

Warehouse workers at Merry-Go-Round Enterprises distribution center in Joppa will go to the ballot box Thursday to decide whether to have union representation.

The number of workers taking part in the vote is a major concern for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which wants to represent the MGRE employees.

Although the company said 314 employees are eligible to vote, the union challenged that number through the National Labor Relations Board, saying that figure is closer to 275. The challenge is pending before the NLRB in Washington.

More than 800 people work for MGRE at the Joppa location, but none is currently represented by a union.

Gary Simpler, an attorney with the Baltimore law firm of Shawe and Rosenthal, which represents MGRE, said he expects the election to take place as scheduled despite the union's challenge.

"Contrary to the union allegation, the company welcomes the vote," said Mr. Simpler. "Should the workers vote for representation, we will gladly negotiate a contract."

The union has said that the company included job classifications that should not be represented in the balloting.

Mr. Simpler responded that all classifications are the same as were involved when another union attempted to gain representation in 1986.

"The classifications being represented in the vote have not changed since 1986," he said. "The only thing that has changed is the number of people now working in those jobs. Our present operation is larger than the one we had in 1986. The new number [314] was approved in November by the NLRB."

In 1986, MGRE warehouse workers voted against representation the United Steelworkers Union.

The NLRB will conduct the election at the warehouse, at 3300 Fashion Way in Joppa, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Connie Brown, the union's regional organizer, believes many of the workers who may want union representation have been intimidated to the point of either "not voting or casting a negative vote."

She said that warning letters containing threats of dismissal were placed in employees files. "Employees said they were told the letters had to do with their quality of work and that if it didn't improve they could be let go," said Ms. Brown. "Once the National Labor Relations Board became involved, the company removed the written warnings from employee files."

Mr. Simpler answered the allegation by saying that the company did not threaten employees with dismissal for union activities. "If an employee received a written warning or was, in fact, dismissed, it was simply for poor work performance," he said.

According to Ms. Brown, the garment workers union received the support of "a majority" of the people who work in the warehouse. She said that many had signed authorization cards over one weekend last February.

She said that shortly after those meetings, the union brought unfair labor practice charges against MGRE, accusing the company of:

* Unlawful intimidation of employees.

* Placing written warnings of dismissal in employee files.

* Not allowing workers to campaign for representation on their own time.

* Restricting campaign literature from being posted on bulletin boards throughout the workplace even though the company broke its nonsolicitation rule by allowing other literature to be posted.

The NLRB found there was sufficient evidence to support the charges, but Merry-Go-Round avoided a hearing by filing a petition with the NLRB in June for a representation vote.

According to Mr. Simpler, this was not an admission of guilt but rather a move to hasten a representation vote.

Ms. Brown said that MGRE warehouse workers are paid an average of $5 an hour and have substandard benefits.

She said unionized garment workers make from $6 to $10 an hour, depending on seniority, and that many MGRE warehouse workers have been with the company long enough to earn wages at the higher end of the range.

The International Ladies Garment Workers Union represents about 250,000 workers nationwide, down from a peak of 450,000 the mid-1960s. Ms. Brown attributed the decline in membership to work being shipped to foreign countries.

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