Split ruling for Freightliner Five

November 7, 2008

Lee Sustar reports on an arbitration decision in the case of five United Auto Workers activists.

Under decisions issued by five separate arbitrators, Franklin Torrence was reinstated with back pay, except for six months. Glenna Swinford was reinstated with no back pay. Robert Whiteside, chair of the union's shop committee, remains fired, as do Allen Bradley and David Crisco.

The five, all elected union officials and members of their union local's bargaining committee, were fired for leading a brief strike at Freightliner's truck plant in Cleveland, N.C., April 2007.

Late last year, the five launched a national solidarity campaign that included meetings with union members and activists in many cities, including Detroit, Flint, Mich., New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore. Bradley also traveled to Germany to meet with members of the IG Metall union, which represents workers at Daimler, the parent company of Freightliner.

Besides taking on an anti-union company, the Freightliner Five also had to take on their own union, United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 3520, as well as the UAW International. Local 3520 President George Drexel worked with the International to put the five through a union trial for alleged violations of the union's constitution, but the workers were acquitted by a jury of rank-and-file members.

Members of the Freightliner Five speak to a solidarity meeting in New York City
Members of the Freightliner Five speak to a solidarity meeting in New York City (Brian Jones | SW)

Drexel kept up his vendetta against the five, however. In February, the union announced that the five were no longer union members because they had not paid dues, even though UAW practice is that members who are contesting a termination remain members until their case is ruled upon. The five have appealed for reinstatement by the union's Public Review Board.

The UAW did formally support the five in the arbitration hearings. But in Allen Bradley's case, Local 3520 President Drexel and UAW Region 8 representative David Bortz testified as witnesses for the company. They parroted management's key claim--that the five were leaders of a wildcat strike because the UAW International had reached a verbal contract agreement with management prior to the walkout. "In my hearing, Jim Coakley, an International official, told the arbitrator that we were union-haters," Allen Bradley said.

In fact, the verbal agreement between the International and Freightliner wasn't binding on the local, Bradley said, since the collective bargaining agreement stipulates that the local is the bargaining agent. "Our local contract requires that any proposal be put in writing, be approved by the bargaining committee and put before the membership," he said.

What you can do

For more information about the Freightliner Five, or to contribute to their campaign, visit their No Justice, No Solidarity Web site.

Also on the Web site are model resolutions of support for the Five that can be used by unions and organizations. Many local unions have already passed such resolutions and raised funds to support this struggle, but more is needed.

Socialist Worker's "Union Busting at Freightliner" provides more details about the case.

The Freightliner Five are conferring with their attorneys to discuss the next steps in the struggle, and will report to their supporters soon.

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