Anti-union campaign takes toll on AWPPW organizing drive

By DON McINTOSH, Staff Reporter

WASHOUGAL, Wash. - When the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW) filed to represent workers at Advanced Drainage Systems on Sept. 13, 70 percent of the workers had signed cards supporting the union. Two months later, when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held an election, 70 percent of the workers voted "no" to the union.

"In that eternity from the moment that you file your petition until the day you actually get your chance at an election, a lot happens," said AWPPW Organizer David Herrera, who ran the campaign. Herrera is a machine operator at Kimberly-Clark in Everett who is on a four-year leave of absence to work as a union organizer.

Workers at the Washougal factory that manufactures plastic pipe used in drainage systems contacted the union in June. Workers start out at $8.50 an hour. The most senior worker, there 23 years, earns $13 an hour. Meanwhile, across the street at British Brake & Asbestos, workers represented by AWPPW earn a union wage. A few miles down Highway 14 is the Fort James pulp mill in Camas, also represented by AWPPW.

Workers at ADS had friends and family in unions, and by September a majority had decided they wanted one of their own, to fight for better wages, an end to favoritism, and elimination of arbitrary work rules.

But then the employer counter-offensive began. The company hired Seattle-based law firm Perkins & Coie to run a campaign against the union. The first thing it did was delay the election by haggling before the NLRB over the definition of the bargaining unit.

The delay meant turnover took a toll, Herrera said. "We lost a healthy number of people that were very strong in their feelings of wanting to go union."

While that was being resolved, the firm began leading a series of so-called "captive-audience" meetings - mandatory attendance meetings on company time.

"The message is crafted by the anti-union consultant and what it boils down to is psychological warfare," Herrera said. "It's a series of charts and speeches and movies hammered to the worker with anti-union themes. They talk about strikes. They say the only role of a union organizer is to separate you from union dues. They talk about how the company's a family and 'give us one more chance.' " Meanwhile, in a workforce of fewer than than 50, two pro-union workers were fired.

Clem Dworaczyk, lead fabricator and a 12-year ADS employee, was told he'd have to relocate to the company's Madera, Calif., site until after the union election. He refused, and was fired at the end of October. The NLRB ruled that he was management, so the firing was legal.

"There are a lot of highs and a lot of lows in my job," Herrera said. "Probably the hardest thing for me to take was to see this happen to such a wonderful, well-respected individual. His whole life has been turned upside down by this."

Even after his firing, Dworaczyk didn't quit supporting the union campaign. He and his wife Lonnie, a 23-year Consolidated Freight employee and member of Office and Professional Employees Local 11, picketed ADS for two straight weeks leading up to the election.

Dworaczyk has yet to find other work.

Another union supporter, Craig Morrow, a graveyard shift truck loader just over a year at the company, was fired ostensibly for a poor attendance record, though he's convinced the company got rid of him for his support for the union.

"I wasn't quiet," Morrow said. "I let people know I was for the union because of the lack of decent pay and benefits." Morrow has since found better-paying work at Pendleton Woolen Mills, where employees are represented by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).

Nov. 16, a day before the election, as many as 60 unionists from AWPPW and other unions held a rally outside the factory to show support for the union drive. The crowd included members of the Carpenters, Teamsters, Longshore, Fire Fighters, Iron Workers, and Nurses unions, and a railroad union. A handful of ADS workers came out on their lunch break to join the picketers, and though high in spirit, reported that they were facing intense pressure inside from management.

Twenty-four hours later, the count was 32 to 14 not to join the union.

"It was a long, hard campaign," Herrera said. "The workers faced quite a bit of anti-union propaganda; they lost their bid to join a union.

"We're going to see defeats, that's just the way it is. The deck is stacked against us but by no means can we give up."

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