Fired for Speaking Out About Unsafe Conditions
It all started over a post on Industrial Carpenters LU 2949’s union Facebook page.
In late summer 2017, employees at Roseburg Forest Products Plywood Plant 4 in Riddle, Oregon, were already dealing with a long hot summer and the threat of heat exhaustion in a building where huge dryers and other equipment added to the ambient temperature. On top of the heat, nearby wildfires filled the air with smoke and ash. The air quality was extremely poor.
Instead of closing the plant for the day and sending people home, management decided to shut all the doors and windows at the plant to keep the smoke and heat out. But, with no ventilation or air scrubbing system, the air inside the facility became closer, hotter, smokier.
“What exactly does ‘lack of company loyalty’ mean?”
“It means whatever we want it to.”
Workers at the plant began to complain about conditions on LU 2949’s private, union Facebook page. Nick Miller (LU 2949), a sawyer with a 14-year work history at the plant, joined in, writing, “Apparently management thinks they can keep the smoke out by closing the doors. That just goes to show the stupidity of management.”
The next day he was called into the HR office with seven managers and shop steward, Edward Weakley (LU 2949) present. Management told him it was a coaching session. “Someone must have sent them a screenshot of our Facebook page,” said Miller. “I was grilled for quite some time by the safety manager. It seemed like she was trying to get me to lash out. But I didn’t, I kept my cool.
“They asked me to leave the room and then suspended me, citing further investigation. Two days later, they fired me. I called my shop steward, and we filed a grievance.”
Over the next several months, Nick met with company management and his Business Representative, Brian Oelberg (LU 2784), following the steps of the grievance procedure. He found out he had been fired for “lack of company loyalty.”
At Step Three of the grievance, Miller was represented by long-time industrial union representative Jerry King (Log Scalers union) who asked, “What exactly does ‘lack of company loyalty’ mean?”
The company replied, “It means whatever we want it to.”
“Posting your opinion on Facebook, even about your employer, is a protected activity,”
After the grievance was denied at Step Three, Miller, King, and Oelberg decided to file an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB collected statements and affidavits and ruled Miller’s firing as a “retaliatory termination.”
The company asked for a second ruling by the NLRB, but that judge, too, found 100% in favor of Miller and fully supported the first ruling. After two years of delays and attempts to pay a settlement to avoid reinstatement and admit wrongdoing, the company backed off. King and Oelberg were able to negotiate Nick’s return to work at Plant 4. Nick was reinstated to his job on January 27 of this year. He was made whole for two years of lost back pay and benefits, with interest and compensation for job search expenses.
“Posting your opinion on Facebook, even about your employer, is a protected activity,” said Business Representative Brian Oelberg. “The Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) process was a long haul, but Nick held out and maintained that he had done nothing wrong. It turned out well for him.”
David Gillis turns to the union for help
David Gillis returned to the cabinet shop in his hometown of Independence, Oregon, after a ten-year absence. It is not a union shop. “I realized that wages were the same as when I worked there out of high school,” he said. “Not only that, but health care out of pocket costs had gone up, and benefits weren’t as good.”
That bothered him. He thought about his great grandfather, who had been a member of the Teamster Union back in the ’20s. However, his coworkers were afraid to speak up. Work is hard to come by in a small town like Independence. So Gillis decided to stand up for his coworkers and contacted Paul Cloer, a representative for the Council and member of LU 196.
Over the next four months, Cloer and Gillis brought together a few of Gillis’s coworkers to learn about their Section 7 rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) for employees seeking to be represented by a union. Paul emphasized to the group that union organizing is a federally protected activity. But even so, it was hard to convince other workers at the company to take action.
Then, during a mandatory labor/management meeting, Gillis openly criticized management and complained about pay and benefits. He was fired for insubordination.
Cloer filed an Unfair Labor Practices charge over his termination. The NLRB ruled in David’s favor, and Cloer was able to negotiate over a year’s worth of back wages with the company.
Since then, Gillis found a better paying job, but he continues to advocate for his community and the workers at the plant he left.