Machinists help member win back job, overtime pay

Workers at Freightliner Corp. on Swan Island in Portland cheered when Fred Lamb punched in for work Oct. 4.

Co-workers were applauding an arbitrator's ruling just days earlier that ordered the German-owned company to reinstate Lamb, 52, to his job and pay him all back wages, potential lost overtime pay, and fringe benefits totaling more than $25,000.

The 28-year employee and officer with Machinists Lodge 1005 was fired April 23 allegedly for "being disruptive to the workforce" which, more specifically, included charges of altering company documents (by attaching a letter to a routing tag) and violating company rules against unauthorized distribution of literature.

At issue was a letter Lamb had penned at the request of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) supporting their organizing drive at a Freightliner plant in Gastonia, N.C., and denouncing a nasty anti-union memo by Freightliner chief executive officer James Hebe. A copy of Lamb's one-paragraph letter somehow found its way from Portland to Gastonia by way of a Freightliner parts tote bin.

Lamb acknowledges writing the letter but insists he didn't put a copy of it in the tote bin. "I don't even have access to that area," he told the NW Labor Press. "But even if I did do it, and they had pictures, I don't think it warrants termination."

Machinists District Lodge 24 filed a grievance and arbitrator David S. Paul ruled in Lamb's favor. District 24 Business Representative Steve Hillesland and Machinists Grand Lodge Representative Don Whitaker handled the arbitration.

"The overtime pay was a very big issue for us," said Hillesland. "Freightliner has never paid lost overtime before this arbitration."

Freightliner rarely has gone to arbitration over a grievance either, Hillesland said. "I've had three arbitrations in five years. We were kind of surprised they took it this far."

Lamb believes he was targeted because of his union activism and because Hebe was upset after being called on the carpet by Freightliner's parent company, DaimlerChrysler.

According to Lamb, DaimlerChrysler has a posted neutrality agreement in all union organizing campaigns and when the UAW informed corporate bosses of the situation at Gastonia, Hebe was ordered to write a retraction and managers were told to read the memo aloud to all employees.

"I don't think he (Hebe) was too happy about that," said Lamb, a sentinel for Auto Mechanics Lodge 1005, a delegate to the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and Oregon Machinists Council, an auditor of District Lodge 24, and a member of the union's bargaining team at Freightliner.

"They clearly targeted a union officer, and thought that by stalling and dragging out the process they would bankrupt me," Lamb said.

Once a month for the next five months Lamb was given the opportunity to return to work without back pay, he said. "After the third offer I sent a letter that said, 'an injustice to one is an injustice to all' and that I was not interested in their offer, he said."

Lamb stuck to his principles even though his family paid out more than $900 a month in prescription drug costs for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis.

At the arbitration hearings Lamb was painted by Freightliner as a troublemaker and agitator. The company revisited a grievance Lamb had filed in 1992 after he was fired for allegedly honoring an unsanctioned picket line when, in fact, he had merely gone home sick that day.

In fact, Lamb is an exemplary employee. He had worked more than 100 hours of overtime in the first four months of 1999 and had more than two months of unused sick leave and vacation time in the bank.

The neutral arbitrator didn't buy into Freightliner's accusations either and ordered that Lamb be reinstated and made whole.

Since then, Lamb was invited as an honorary guest speaker to the UAW's Bus Engine and Truck Conference in San Diego to tell his tale. Co-workers have applauded him for fighting the good fight and recently a batch of T-shirts was designed that read: "It pays to be union ... just ask Fred."

December 3, 1999 issue

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