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.