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Former Argus Workers Seek UAW Damages

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Former Argus
Workers Seek
UAW Damages

News Courts Reporter

An unusual civil suit which could
cost the United Auto Workers union
more than $2 million in damage pay-
ments to members has been filed in
Washtenaw Circuit Court.

"This suit is aimed at preventing
labor unions from lying to their mem-
bers. It's simple as that," Peter R.
Barbara and Phil Bozzo, attorneys for
the union members, say.

The suit has been brought on behalf
of 10 former employes of the Argus
Optics Company plant at 2601 S. State
Street. That plant was hit by a UAW-
called strike on June 13, 1974. The
strike was not settled for 13 months
and by that time there were less than
35 of the original 140 jobs in the plant
still existence, Barbara and Bozzo
claim. The lawyers say the long strike
resulted in the cancellation of con-
tracts previously signed with the Ar-
gus firm.

Three UAW officials, an listed as
nternational organizers, are specifi-
ally charged in the suit with lying to
mion members before and during the
strike. They are Walt M. Baker, Phil
Furman and Kenneth Koppen.

"These men knew what they were
telling union members was wrong.
They knew the company profits
dropped off to virtually nothing, $1,000
a year at one point. But they went
ahead and told the workers the profits
were a million dollars a year and that
higher pay could be obtained. They
misrepresented how easily unemploy-
ment benefits could be obtained.
on strike. They told the membership
that the union would prevent the loss
of homes and automobiles by stopping
foreclosures during the strike and
they promised the workers jobs when
the strike was over. These were all
lies. And these union officials knew
it," Attorney Bozzo contends.

The suit says Baker. Fruman and
Koppen played active roles in having
the UAW o by the National La-
bor Relatiu.n, m,i.>d as the bargaining
agent for Argus workers in 1973 and
remained active in advising arid in-
structing workers during the 13-
month strike.

The lawyers for the workers say
Baker, Furman and Koppen repeated-
ly stressed that Argus was making $1
mi year profit although they
kni.., 1.11, company had deficits from
1972 through 1974. But because of
what the attorneys call "historic
trust" which the workers had in the
union leaders the members relied on
> their statements and joined in the
strike in June, 1974.

Because of the leadership of the un-
ion officials the workers lost their
earnings and many had to move in
with relatives or parents, the suit
charges Othpr workers had to secure
low-pa -i and go on the welfare
food stamp p All suffered
"frustration am if" because of
what the suit calls" the deceptive
practices" of the UAW.

Leonard Page, assistant general
counsel for the UAW in Detroit, said
the union disputes the charges in the

"First the $1 million profit figure
was given in good faith. It later deve-
loped that the Ann Arbor Argus firm
was a subsidary of a larger firm

which showed the million dollar
gain," Page said. "We never said the
Argus Optics had that profit margin."

Page said it is not the policy of the
UAW leaders' to tell strikers that
they're not assuming any financial
risk when a strike begins.

"We would not tell members that
the un^on would take care of house
and car payments. In one large auto
strike paying strikers only $40 a week
the strike fund was virti " xhaust-
ed in 12 weeks. And I - e how:

we would have told the Argus mem-
bers that they could collect unemploy-
ment and strike benefits at the same
time," Page. said.

Counselor Page says he sees ffie
suit as thp •-oci.H ^f f-'strations on
the part s workers
brought on uy me unsuccessful con-
clusion of the strike. He said the, work
stoppage ended only when the UAW
agreed with Argus officials not to at-
tempt a second certification election
in exchange for the dropping of all
civil and criminal suits against union

The National Labor Relations Board
certified after a supervised election
that the UAW should have bargaining
rights for the Argus workers. Howev-
er when the company appealed the
'ication the I th Circuit

_, of Annpals ru. u ...„(. the com-
pany .ave been given a IK as
ing on ititu ubjections to certification.

Counselor Page said to win another
certification the UAW would have had
to start the entire process over from

said it continues to be the
union's stand that the suit belongs in
a U.S. District Court rather than in a
local Circuit Court.

"To allow local courts to hear such
cases would subject unions to two
separate jurisdictions," Page says.
"The NLRB, which is the governing
agency by law, would be an avenue
for settling of labor disputes along
with any courts of m s

Attorneys Barbara and Bozzo are

seeking to make the suit a clas^
tion procedure and are asking i
compensatory damages which would
include back pay and damages for
"anxiety, humiliation and embarrass-
ment" suffered because of the
"fraudulent statements" of the UAW

If the suit is made a class action
procedure and back pay is awarded to
over 100 workers the damages could
reach $2 million.

The suit was filed before Circuit
Court Judge William F. Ager Jr
However UAW attorneys almost im
mediately moved that the suit be
transferred to U.S. District Court in
Detroit on the grounds that the facts
involved arise out of an "organization-
al dispute" which comes under the
proper jurisdiction of the National La-
bor Relations Board.

Attorney Bozzo said Wednesday the
jurisdictional question is now before
Federal Judge Robert DeMascio ir
Detroit who is expected to rule on the
issue in about a month. The attorneys
for the union workers have before
Judge DeMascio a motion to remand
the case to Washtenaw County Circuit
Court for trial.