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Fired Wood Dimension Workers Claim They Were Let Go to Duck Union Vote

Times Staff Writer

A group of workers who were fired two days before they were to vote on joining the Teamsters Union picketed Thursday in front of their former employer, Wood Dimension of Orange.

The workers charged that 70 of Wood Dimension’s 82 employees were dismissed last week in an attempt by the maker of stereo speaker cabinets to thwart the union campaign.

As a result of the firings, Teamsters Union Local 952 in Orange has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Wood Dimension of engaging in unfair labor practices.

Shouting “We want our jobs,” 47 workers marched for about an hour Thursday morning outside Wood Dimension’s locked offices. Union organizer Pete Espudo, rallying the group, charged that the company had treated its work force like a “disposable commodity.”

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“For too long, employers have taken the attitude that because there are a lot of Hispanic workers out there, they can be easily replaced,” Espudo said in an interview. “Our objective today is to get Wood Dimension to the bargaining table. Let’s cut out this game and get these people back to work.”

The union’s complaint is the latest of several charges lodged against the company on behalf of workers who have been attempting to unionize since May.

In July, NLRB regional director Victoria Aguayo in Los Angeles alleged that seven Wood Dimension workers had been fired because they had engaged in pro-union activities. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Oct. 5 before an administrative law judge.

Wood Dimension owner Gene A. Hedland could not be reached for comment.

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According to the Teamsters’ NLRB complaint, the firings occurred last Wednesday, two days before a scheduled election in which the employees were to vote on joining the Teamsters local.

Nevertheless, the fired workers cast ballots in an election held last Friday, according to Louis Rodriguez, a Teamsters organizer. The sealed ballots have been forwarded to the NLRB.

According to NLRB spokeswoman Saundria Bordone, Wood Dimension management contends that the votes are invalid since the workers are no longer employed by the company.

Bordone said that the ballots had been received and that the eligibility of the voters will be investigated.

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Wood Dimension has claimed that it fired the workers as a result of a slowdown in business, said Paul Crost, an attorney representing the union.

“It is extraordinary, going from an employment level of 82 to 12 two days before the election,” Crost said. “It doesn’t take a genius to draw the inference” that Wood Dimension closed the plant to block the union drive, he added.

Pedro Lopez, one of three Wood Dimension workers leading the drive, said he does not believe that the firings were caused by a business decline.

Lopez said the employees, who earned an average of about $4.50 an hour and received no health benefits, were working double shifts over much of the summer.

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Lopez, who spoke through a translator, said the workers first contacted the Teamsters in May about prospects of joining the union.

Lopez said about 90% of the workers signed cards indicating that they favored joining the union.

When notified of the workers’ intentions to call a union vote, Lopez said, the company threatened to fire workers who supported the drive.

Fourteen workers were fired in May for participating in the union campaign and later rehired, according to Teamsters organizer Rodriguez.

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The NLRB complaint filed in July alleged that Wood Dimension managers “interrogated employees with regard to their union activities and sympathies.”

Lopez said he and other pro-union workers were routinely harassed by supervisors with vulgar and profane language and were often ordered to “work harder.”

Rodriguez said workers were limited by their supervisors to two trips to the bathroom a day, each lasting no more than three minutes.

“I’ve been organizing in Orange County for 17 years and have never seen anything like this,” he declared.

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Lopez said about 80% of the dismissed workers, most of whom are Latino, qualified for amnesty earlier this year under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Nativo V. Lopez, an organizer with Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an immigrant rights group that assisted the Wood Dimension workers in their union drive, said he expects to see an increase in organizing as newly legalized immigrants become more aware of their rights.

“For years, these workers have been subject to all kinds of abuse,” he said. “Now that they are here legally, it is inevitable that they will begin to organize, as all immigrant groups have done over the years.”


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