Tannery files for injunction

June 03, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

A Washington County automotive leather manufacturer has filed for a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the union that represents more than 750 of its local workers.

Garden State Tannery filed for the injunction and restraining order Monday afternoon in Washington County Circuit Court against the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees; its international representative, Robert Hinkle; and its local president, Bobby Colvin.

The company alleges that beginning Sunday, union members have barred access to Garden State's three Washington County facilities and harassed employees and customers attempting to get in, according to court documents.


Hinkle said Monday night he had not seen the court filing yet, but that it was a typical legal move and the union would fight it. He said the allegations in the filing were not true.

The union has been picketing the company since midnight Saturday, after rejecting Garden State's contract offer.

According to court documents, the company asked the court to enter a decree enjoining the defendants from:

  • Preventing any persons from entering or leaving its premises through mass picketing, violence, trespass, intimidation or coercion or threats

  • Obstructing the entrances to the company's facilities

  • Interfering with the company's operations

  • Placing more than four pickets on a company parking lot - or any pickets within 10 feet of a fire lane or on a loading dock

  • Parking more than two vehicles - or any vehicle larger than a pickup truck - in picketing areas

  • Trespassing

  • Following or surrounding employees or suppliers to keep them from entering the company's facilities.

The court documents allege picketers have "repeatedly threatened, intimidated and harassed GST employees by, among other things, standing on the cars of employees attempting to enter plaintiff's premises; approaching employees in their cars; screaming profanities at and otherwise verbally threatening, harassing and intimidating delivery drivers, blocking employees' entrance into the facility and use of facility parking" in violation of Maryland law.

"Those are not untrue allegations," said Lt. Randy Wilkinson of the Washington County Sheriff's Department, who has been patrolling at the picket lines. "It's a typical strike situation, but we haven't had occasion to arrest anybody; it hasn't even come close to that. It's been pretty orderly, but I can't say it's been congenial."

Hinkle said he had not seen any employees or union members get on top of cars.

"Did we do some yelling? Yeah," Hinkle said. Union members yelled at some temporary workers, and union members and some managers also waved politely to each other, he said.

Garden State President and Chief Executive Officer Mark D. Lecher said he couldn't comment on the injunction request, but said "we have a responsibility to all our employees" to keep the peace.

Hinkle said about 150 workers had been picketing at each of the company's Washington County locations.

Strikers were set to continue picketing Garden State Tanning for a third day today, Hinkle said.

He said Monday the union was waiting to hear from the company and planned to picket "24/7."

"We haven't heard anything from the company," Hinkle said. "It's their call."

Lecher said the union had not responded to what the company considered its final offer, and said the company was continuing its efforts to explain the offer to all employees.

Lecher reiterated his earlier statement that because only 332 of the company's 751 union workers voted to reject the contract, he's concerned that the contract's provisions weren't communicated clearly. "I think when most folks on the team read it, they'll see that it's fair."

Lecher said the company left the bargaining table believing the union's bargaining team had agreed to the company's plan to extend a 401(k) plan to workers in lieu of its former pension plan.

He said administrators at the company "don't have a pension plan; they have a 401(k)." Lecher said the company would be contributing just as much to the 401(k) as it had to the pension plan.

Hinkle earlier said the company's decision to freeze the pension plan was one of the issues leading to the strike.

The company's plants remain open in spite of the strike. Lecher declined to discuss whether the company had hired temporary workers or whether shift schedules had been affected, but said some workers were back on the job Monday. "I was in one of the plants yesterday, and I saw a 14-year veteran who had come back to work. I thanked her personally," he said. "One thing we've learned today is that the backbone of this company is stronger than even I realized."

Hinkle said approximately six union members crossed the picket line to return to work. "There's always some," he said.

Garden State Tannery manufactures automotive leather. The company employs 850 to 900 in Washington County, Lecher said.

"This is not an acrimonious situation in any way," Lecher said, referring to the company's view of its employees. "We have a tremendous number of hard-working people" that Lecher said he hopes will come back to work.

Staff writer Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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