Paper fired worker illegally, NLRB rules He refused to train as a strikebreaker

Journalism

December 29, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that American Publishing Co. illegally fired a Michigan newspaper employee last year who refused to act as a replacement worker in the event of a strike by editorial employees at the Chicago Sun-Times.

The ruling was hailed yesterday by Chicago officials of the Newspaper Guild as protection against workers being forced by their employers to be strikebreakers.

The NLRB said American Publishing, a division of Hollinger International Inc., which owns the Sun-Times, had no authority to discharge Dwight Biermann, a computer systems coordinator at the Herald Palladium in St. Joseph, Mich. American Publishing wanted to send Biermann and several other employees of Hollinger-owned newspapers to Chicago for computer training in November 1997, in anticipation of a possible strike by employees of Local 71 of the Chicago Newspaper Guild.

Biermann refused, saying he came from a union background and would not cross a picket line, if a strike occurred. "I understand that my stance on this issue could very well cost me my job I accept that," Biermann wrote in a November 1997 memo to management at the Herald Palladium.

Although a strike was authorized at the Sun-Times, it was averted when Guild members and management reached a contract agreement Nov. 19. Biermann was fired Nov. 13.

Biermann was not a union member, but the Guild filed a complaint with the NLRB, arguing that American had no right to force Biermann to go to Chicago to be trained as a strikebreaker, nor did it have the authority to fire Biermann for refusing to go.

Company attorneys said Biermann was part of management and was obligated to do things that might not meet with his approval. The NLRB disagreed and said an employee -- even one not affiliated with a union -- can lawfully refuse to cross a picket line.

The board said Biermann was not part of management and ordered the company to pay lost wages to Biermann, which amount to about two weeks of his $37,000-a-year salary.

"This guy was a working guy and he got fired for taking a moral stance," Kenneth Edwards, attorney for Local 71, said yesterday.

"It's gratifying that this may benefit people down the road, and I feel a certain amount of vindication from this," said Biermann, who now works as a production manager at the State News, at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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