In The News
NLRB postpones election at Capital Returns
Capital Returns, whose uncaring treatment of workers was the subject of a Labor Press expose in December, is now facing a formal unionizing effort brought by workers who want the company to pay attention to conditions, safety, health and pay.
Receiving sufficient cards from workers asking to be represented by USW (the United Steelworkers), the NLRB scheduled an election for March 6.
But Irv Gottschalk, executive director of NLRB Region 30 located in Milwaukee, confirmed that the election has been “postponed indefinitely” while the federal agency takes testimony on unfair labor practices and other charges brought by the USW.
The NLRB will also seek the company’s response and its hearing officers may initiate questions of their own as more complaints and information come in.
In the early stages, testimony was being taken about unlawfully threatening (or giving the impression of disciplining) employees for pro-union insignias and literature and for engaging in surveillance for purposes of intimidation. More cases are coming in.
Community rallies at the plant have also led to charges against the company for its behavior, but they have also led to online videos by the workers’ supporters to tell the story
The most recent video, after three minutes setting the scene, brings to the forefront how many of these low-wage workers are African American women with children, some pregnant, handling the medical and waste substances on the processing lines. Actual workers describe the conditions while representatives of USW and the Milwaukee Area Labor Council make it clear they won’t quit until things change.
The NLRB case is emerging as almost a textbook for the USW on why the Employee Free Choice Act is needed in the US to prevent games when workers try to organize.
Even clarifying just who is in this workforce has become a battle. The numbers have been lower than 300 in some NLRB discussions (excluding guards and office workers not part of the USW effort or the NLRB concern). That gave the USW a majority of workers requesting the union – until the company somehow recounted.
Then the workforce numbers jumped above 400 in lists exchanged with the union and the NLRB. (These are lists that all parties keep private.) Gottschalk confirmed that a new list will have to be generated at the end of the investigation.
How many work on the line? This could also be a numbers game both the city and state are interested in, having provided Capital Returns some serious financial aid – making available at least $3.6 million in response to pledges by Capital Returns when it moved to a new home in the old Evinrude plant at 6101 N. 64th St.
The money – a mixture of forgivable loans, good-term loans and tax credits offering deductions for additional workers – all required Capital Returns to increase its hiring of residents.
So the companpy is obviously on a considerable financial hook to add specific numbers of residents to the workforce over several years.
Yet one of the unfair labor practices filed by the USW says the employer and its agents unlawfully threatened to close the facility if the employees elected a union. Those managers never mentioned to workers the depth of financial support the company receives from taxpayers, and the penalty for abandoning these arrangements, realities that turn hollow any threat of imminent departure.
The loans and tax credits also require the company to report additions to its workforce, which makes the confusion about the number of processing workers seem strange. Workers say there has been a big turnover, and Labor Press found staffing service agencies that were looking for workers for Capital Returns.
Labor Press research also found an amazing range of government regulations and rules in play that extend beyond the money sources – which are the state Department of Commerce and the City Department of Development and its related corporation.
The concerns about safety, health and environmental standards involve the state’s DWD (Department of Workforce Development) and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and the city’s new Workforce Investment Board, which lists Capital Returns as a supporting company.
The regulatory and protection issues also touch the federal DOL (Department of Labor), OSHA, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The old Evinrude plant that taxpayers helped Capital Returns move into, in exchange for those promises to increase the resident workforce, is a large facility of several buildings that stretches around the block. The company apparently tried to shepherd workers out the back door during one organizing effort, which is one of the issues of complaint the NLRB is looking into.
Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Workers describe Capital Returns' anti-union tactics on YouTube
You can find the full story about Capital Returns on this website by going to the Labor Press link and archives and clicking on the December 2007 edition.