The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ordered a Victor business to pay back wages to two former employees who were suspended in 1998 and 1999 for passing out pro-union literature.
Alpine Log Homes, on Highway 93, was ordered last month to pay a total of $2,674.05 to Lennie Thompson and Steve Lehman, and to post a notice in its workplace notifying employees of their right to unionize under federal law.
Thompson, now a University of Montana graduate student, says that he and Lehman attracted the attention of Alpine’s management when they stood in the parking lot handing out union literature to fellow workers in the fall of 1997 and the spring of 1998.
“We had passed out union information and we were told to stop or we would be either written up, suspended or fired,” Thompson says.
Lehman was suspended twice in early 1999 for his pro-union activities. He ultimately found another job in California, where he now lives. Thompson was suspended for two days in September 1998. He still lives in Hamilton.
Thompson filed a complaint with the NLRB, claiming that his right to unionize had been violated. When the NLRB didn’t respond, Thompson took his case to Sen. Max Baucus (D–Mont.) who put pressure on the labor board. In September 1999, an administrative law judge found that Alpine had, indeed, unlawfully suspended the two workers for unionizing. Alpine appealed the initial ruling, but lost that appeal late last month.
Thompson and Lehman had tried to interest their co-workers in joining the Contractors and Laborers Union, to no avail.
“We just wanted to organize,” Thompson says. “Of course, we wanted better wages, benefits, retirement, [and] health insurance.”
The company “rhetoric,” he says, was that “your best investment for your future is in your 401(k).” Alpine paid 25 cents for every employee dollar donated to 401(k) retirement plans, but Thompson says those individual plans have lost money in the recent economic downturn. “If they would have gone with the union they would’ve been better off,” he says of his former co-workers. But, he adds, “People are too scared to unionize. In the Bitterroot Valley, just to have a job is premium.”
Alpine President John Powell could not be reached for comment.
Thompson says he may return to Alpine, not as an employee, but just to keep his former co-workers informed about their right to unionize. He doesn’t hold out much hope that they will, however. “I don’t know. That’s debatable. It’ll take some more work.”