Copyright 2005 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc. TELEGRAM & GAZETTE (Massachusetts)UAW ousted at Saint-Gobain; Workers vote 350-309 to decertify union at Greendale plant Bob Kievra; TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFFWORCESTER – Workers at Saint-Gobain Abrasives Inc. yesterday voted to decertify the United Auto Workers union, rejecting the union as their bargaining agent after a tumultuous 3-1/2-year tenure that featured a strike, unfair labor practice charges and a stalemate over an initial contract. Voting to decertify UAW Region 9A were 350 employees; voting to retain union representation were 309 employees. There were 715 employees eligible to vote. Nine ballots were challenged and one was voided. The UAW bucked a 100-year tradition in August 2001 when, in a 406-386 vote, the union mounted a successful organizing drive that drew on widespread discontent with management at the sprawling Greendale manufacturing complex. But two groups of employees and the company mounted decertification efforts in recent years, citing the closeness of the initial election and a lack of progress toward a first contract. Union officials last night said they were evaluating their options and would decide next week whether to file objections. Election objections must be submitted by Friday to the National Labor Relations Board. Robert L. Madore, assistant director of UAW Region 9A, said he was disappointed, but had no regrets about the union’s negotiating tactics, an eight-day strike in 2003, or the decision to cease filing objections that would have delayed the election. Saint-Gobain and decertification proponents succeeded, in part, because they raised the possibility of layoffs and plant closings, a powerful weapon that played on the economic hopes and fears of abrasives workers, he said. “The workers were intimidated and coerced and threatened. We’re evaluating our options, but those types of threats can be grounds to file objections,” Mr. Madore said while sipping coffee at a West Boylston Street Dunkin’ Donuts. Employees who lobbied for decertification were pleased with the outcome, but said healing the pro- and anti-union factions will be difficult. Top management at Saint-Gobain must address some of the discontent that first gave rise to the union effort, they said. “We overcame a lot of roadblocks,” said decertification proponent William Damato Jr., an 18-year employee. “I’m glad we succeeded, but I’m not going to do this again. I hope management takes notice, takes actions and fixes some things.” Saint-Gobain came to Worcester in 1990 when it bought the former Norton Co., which had a long nonunion tradition. Saint-Gobain had easily fended off four previous efforts prior to the UAW victory. The UAW and Saint-Gobain never enjoyed good relations, sparring with one another over proposed benefit changes, the pace of negotiations, and what role politicians and other civic officials should play in brokering an initial contract. Saint-Gobain lobbied for decertification in recent weeks and officials said last night they were pleased to put an end to the “turmoil throughout our operations caused by the union.” The union represented about 45 percent of the total work force at Saint-Gobain’s Greendale operations. While happy that the union was decertified, Saint-Gobain executives struck a conciliatory tone, acknowledging that mistakes had been made, errors that may have fostered union organizing efforts. “I’m confident that there’s enough people in this organization who want to make this place work and succeed,” said Stephen A. Stockman, vice president of bonded abrasives in North America and site manager of Greendale operations. “It’s going to take time. Some healing will be needed, but I think everyone is interested in the long-term success of Saint-Gobain in Worcester.” The union’s inability to deliver on many of its promises worked against it, said Mr. Stockman. He said the union, in some instances, negotiated contract provisions that gave workers less attractive benefits than they had prior to the union. “The difference in the election was really what the union did not accomplish,” he said. Mr. Stockman came to Greendale in January 2001 and said he was attempting to open up lines of communication in the months prior to the August 2001 vote. Those efforts were mothballed once the union was organized, but will begin anew over the next few weeks, he said. Decertification proponents enlisted the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit group critical of compulsory union dues. Last night, those who lobbied for decertification said they hope to form a new, nonthreatening atmosphere with management. “We would like the opportunity to mend the wounds caused by the UAW,” said James W. Mitchell, a 26-year veteran of Saint-Gobain who filed a decertification petition in September 2004. “We hold no grudges and would like the opportunity to become a unified company again.” Mr. Mitchell’s petition was the second of three decertification petitions. Wayne W. Gregoire filed the first petition in 2003, and Saint-Gobain sought decertification in October 2004. Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Gregoire and others operated a pro-decertification employees group known as the Grass Roots Coalition Against the Union. Members of the group noted that Saint-Gobain is a large, multinational company that could easily shift operations to other parts of the world. Mr. Madore said the coalition acted as “agents of the company” by mouthing doom-and-gloom assertions that federal labor laws precluded Saint-Gobain from uttering. Saint-Gobain and the decertification proponents have repeatedly said they operated independent of one another. “We’re not sorry we came to Worcester,” Mr. Madore said. “We’re proud of what we’ve done. But this was an undemocratic process because the coalition was really working on behalf of the company.” Gary N. Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University, said yesterday’s vote is a dramatic reversal from 2001, when the UAW’s success made national headlines. The UAW had every right to be proud in 2001 because unionizing manufacturing workers is a difficult task, Mr. Chaison said. But having it fall apart less than four years later is also significant, he said. “They may have pushed too hard and too fast instead of just getting an agreement and establishing a relationship,” he said. In the end, workers on both sides of the issue may get what they want, because Saint-Gobain will treat the union as a shot across the bow, he said. Workers have shown their dissatisfaction with Saint-Gobain in a strong, impressive manner, he said. “Saint-Gobain is probably saying to themselves, ‘How can we avoid this from happening again?'” Mr. Chaison said. “In that respect, the workers may come out ahead in the end.” Business Reporter Bob Kievra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.