Thursday, March 29, 2007

Union, Pine Hall Brick in public spat

Dispute over bonuses prompts union to post fliers questioning the company's integrity

By Richard Craver

A local union chapter has taken public a pay dispute with Pine Hall Brick Co. Inc., posting fliers in Winston-Salem that question the company’s business practices.

Pine Hall acknowledged a dispute but rebutted the union’s allegations. The company also said that the union’s comments in the fliers could hurt the very employees they said they were fighting for.

Teamsters Local 391 says in the fliers that Pine Hall’s management “is trying to violate a key component of the contract - pay” with the company’s delivery drivers. The 25 drivers were represented by the union until its contract expired Jan. 31, the company said. Union officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The union has filed three grievances, containing a combined 10 allegations, against Pine Hall with the Winston-Salem regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. The board has dismissed six of the allegations since December. The other four allegations remain under investigation, said Howard Neidig, the assistant to the regional director.

In the flier, the union questions the integrity of Pine Hall’s management. The headline reads, “Doing business with Pine Hall Brick? … You better get it in writing.” The flier ends with “Please protect yourself when doing business with Pine Hall Brick - nail down the terms of your negotiations in an ironclad contract.”

Fletcher Steele, the president of Pine Hall, said that the dispute heated up when the company chose in November to support a group of delivery drivers in their request for decertification of the contract with the union. The union filed its first grievance Dec. 8 - two days before the company was scheduled to hold an election on the decertification petition, according to Steele. The grievance was amended twice.

The dispute, according to the flier, centers on a production bonus that the union says is due the drivers. The union said that the contract “assured” that the drivers would get bonuses matching those from previous years.

Steele said that the drivers got a smaller bonus because the company delivered fewer bricks in 2006. He said that the bonus is based on performance, just as it is for production employees.

The dispute has put “management’s relationship with its employees in serious jeopardy,” the flier says. However, the drivers represent just 6 percent of Pine Hall’s work force of 425, Steele said.

Other allegations made by the union include that the company was trying to coerce employees into deserting the union, restricting employees’ access to union representatives, and showing favoritism to nonunion drivers.

The labor board has dismissed six of the eight allegations in the Dec. 8 filing, including the failure to pay the production bonus. It continues to investigate the charges of restricting union access and unlawful surveillance of employees’ union activities.

On March 16, the union filed a grievance that Pine Hall “has refused to collectively bargain.” A March 20 filing said that Pine Hall “has made unilateral changes without bargaining.”

Steele disputed the refusal-to-collectively-bargain grievance because the contract with the union had expired. He said he wants to learn more details before commenting on the unilateral-changes filing.

He said he is disappointed by the union’s strategy. “It doesn’t sound like they are representing the full interest of the drivers,” he said. “By challenging our integrity, they are trying to take away business from the company. But by potentially taking away business from the company, they could lower the amount of our production and deliveries, thereby leading to smaller production bonuses.”

The Winston-Salem chapter of the Better Business Bureau says that Pine Hall has a satisfactory record and hasn’t had any customer complaints in the past three years.

■ Richard Craver can be reached at 727-7376 or at