Union disputes election defeat

The big union's fight against the upstart continues after a tight election won by the fledgling Covington Paperworkers Union Local 675. During a March 12 secret ballot vote, CPU apparently wrested from United Steelworkers International the right to represent about 972 union workers at the MeadWestvaco paper mill in Covington (VA).

The National Labor Relations Board, which held and supervised the election, must certify the vote before CPU's victory becomes official.

On Wednesday, USW petitioned the NLRB for a new election.

Its petition cited 15 examples of alleged misconduct by CPU in the weeks and months preceding the election. The objections included alleged harassment and intimidation of USW members at the paper mill.

CPU won the election by 14 votes, receiving 465 votes to USW's 451.

CPU responded this week to USW's allegations with a release from John Fishwick, a Roanoke lawyer who has represented CPU for months.

Fishwick said that "CPU ran a straight and honest campaign" and "will vigorously fight to uphold the free and fair election results."

Willie Clark, an NLRB regional director based in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the labor board will conduct an initial investigation of USW's allegations and determine whether a formal hearing is necessary.

The NLRB will delay any vote certification decision until USW's objections and CPU's rebuttals are reviewed thoroughly, Clark said. The review process could require a month or more, he said -- or even longer if initial NLRB decisions are appealed by the parties.

In October, CPU split from the USW, an international powerhouse among labor unions, to form its own local to negotiate with MeadWestvaco for a new labor contract. The previous contract expired in December 2006. Union members have continued working at the mill under its terms.

Officers and members of CPU have claimed that USW's negotiators failed to adequately represent the best interests of the paper mill workers in contract talks last year with MeadWestvaco.

Fishwick said CPU is ready to renew long-stalled contract negotiations with MeadWestvaco.

During earlier talks, issues have included health care coverage, pension contributions, wages and company proposals to make boundaries between maintenance trades more porous.

MeadWestvaco is the largest taxpayer and employer for Covington and Allegheny County.


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