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For week ended December 19, 1999 Posted 18 Dec 1999

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UAW accused of fostering prejudice against Mormons

Summarized by Kent Larsen

UAW accused of fostering prejudice against Mormons
Burlington IA The Hawk Eye 15Dec99 D1
By Mike Augspurger: The Hawk Eye

FORT MADISON, IOWA -- A labor dispute at Wabash National Corp. has escalated into accusations of religious discrimination at the semi-trailer manufacturer. Management at the company claims that the union harassed members of the Mormon faith within the plant and tried to convince workers there was a "Mormon conspiracy" there.

The claims arise after a disputed election over continuing representation of workers by the United Auto Workers Local 1492 that the National Labor Relations Board has yet to certify. The Union, which claims victory in the election due to 14 contested ballots that it claims were cast by ineligible employees, says that claims by company management are simply not true. Local union president Jim Arnold says the Union never badmouthed Mormons and that the union is tolerant of all religions. "Peoples' religion is theirs; leave them alone," he said.

But Arnold does admit that workers have notice an influx of Mormons in the plant. The plant manager, production superintendent, new maintenance foreman and other supervisors have all been brought into the plant from outside, and all are LDS Church members, according to Arnold. "These people came from nowhere. It made some heads up on people and aggravated people. They (the company) may have created the chaos." Some workers also claim that the new LDS supervisors don't have the experience necessary for their jobs.

The tension leaked out when someone posted flyers at various places in the plant claiming that "Morman Conversion Classes" would be held at a local strip bar.

Plant manager and LDS Church member Phil McGrath claimed in a press release that the union was behind anti-Mormon feelings at the plant. He said that the feelings had led to attacks against him, supervisors and other LDS employees at the plant. "Given the emotional debates in our community over the last several months over the construction of the [LDS Church's] Nauvoo temple in Nauvoo, Ill., the union clearly made conscious efforts to exploit religious issues to affect the outcome of this election," said McGrath in the press release.

The company is taking the situation very serious. Because religious prejudices are involved, it has forwarded information to congressional representatives. It also plans to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Meanwhile, the NLRB still must rule on the election. If it decides that the Union did attempt to connect the election with religion, it could order a new election.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information