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Workers at Winslow's Alcom Plant Allege Union Busting
05/23/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

For almost a month now, a group of workers has been trying to organize a union at Winslow-based trailer manufacturer Alcom Inc. But in the last week, five of those workers have been let go, leading to allegations of union busting. Now, labor groups are calling on the CEO of Alcom to reinstate those workers. As Jennifer Mitchell reports, the company seems surprised by the allegations. But workers are claiming the dismissals point to a culture of fear and intimidation, which they say has been present at the factory for years.

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Five workers at Alcom Inc. say they had just signed union cards, and shortly after lost their jobs.

"I feel like I was fired because I was a union supporter, and I was trying to support a union," says Bernie Robinson, one of the employees issued a pink slip last week. "You know, I went in at 7:00 in the morning Friday, and they met me at the door and said that they were letting me go."

Robinson says he was not given a reason for his termination. Four other pro-union employees would lose their jobs over the next couple of days. One of them was Corey Gerard who had worked at the plant for two years. In that time, he says, the company, under the direction of CEO Trapper Clark, had cultivated a culture of intimidation and belittlement of workers.

Gerard describes how company supervisors would target a worker and humiliate him in a session of locker-room style discipline - in front of other workers. "And they'll sit there and just make fun of him - tell him how he doesn't work fast, how he needs to pick up the pace, and he doesn't know how to read a tape measure - or that he looks like a "homo"'s pretty intense."

Gerard says he doesn't believe that every company needs a union, but Alcom, he says, does - and not just to safeguard pay and benefits, but to combat abusive treatment. He says he knew the company would object to an organization effort, but his firing still came as a sudden - and humiliating - surprise, as a supervisor approached him on the floor and terminated him as his co-workers looked on.

Like Robinson, Gerard says he was not given a reason for his termination; instead, he says, the supervisor who fired him just hinted that he'd "heard" troubling news about Gerard. Gerard took that to mean that he was fired for his union activities.

Company officials deny the allegation. "No one has ever been fired from Alcom, or will ever be fired for that. That's illegal and unlawful and we wouldn't do that," says CEO Trapper Clark.

Clark says he was taken aback by the allegations being made by the terminated workers. At no time, he says, has the company ever engaged in illegal or coersive practices, or intimidated the work force. On the contrary, he says the company has taken great pains to work with the employees.

"Our flexibility is excellent," he says, "even to the extent that we've recently announced a major, major contribution increase to health insurance for all employees."

Clark says Alcom has done its best to maintain a competitive pay scale throughout difficult economic times, and has created almost 200 jobs on which Mainers can raise families. Turnover, he says, is relatively low.

As for why the five employees were fired, Clark says it's a private personnel matter and the reasons must be kept confidential. That's an argument that AFL-CIO executive director Matt Schlobohm isn't buying.

"It becomes pretty clear that these workers were fired for exercising their right to form a union," Schlobohm says. "That's illegal, it's wrong and it runs counter to Maine core values that people should be able to stand up for themselves."

The AFL-CIO is calling on CEO Clark to reinstate the workers and to "correct his ways." Clark says the company's "ways" are "fine" and denies any wrong doing.

If no agreement can be reached, it's likely that the National Labor Relations Board will have the final word. As for the union organizing efforts at the plant, both Corey Gerard and Bernie Robinson say they're confident the effort will continue.


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