CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Following another set of unfair labor practice charges filed by the United Steelworkers of America, the National Labor Relations Board has issued a second complaint against Continental General Tire Inc. The NLRB on June 30 consolidated the complaint with a first complaint filed in April pertaining to the 10-month strike by USWA Local 850 at the company's Charlotte tire plant.
Like the earlier action, this latest complaint alleges the tire maker failed to provide five items of information the union needed for bargaining purposes prior to going on strike last Sept. 20. The complaint also accuses Conti General of engaging in unlawful surveillance of the strikers during the first two days of the walkout.
No hearing date before an administrative law judge has been set for the consolidated complaint, but litigation in the matter could go on as long as two years, said Willie L. Clark Jr., NLRB Region 11 director in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Normally a hearing date is set for 60 days after notice of the date is given, then the administrative judge can take about 90 days to issue a ruling, Mr. Clark said. Depending on the actions of the litigants, it could take more than a year to go through the courts to enforce the decision.
The NLRB also issued a complaint against the USWA for charges of violence and illegal behavior on the picket line, but the union has made an offer of settlement on the charge, he said. However, at this point Conti General has declined to accept the conditions of settlement.
Conti General is pleased the NLRB dismissed what the company saw as the more substantial charges, leaving only what the tire maker considers minor issues, said Human Resources Director Michael Polovick. He added that he's confident the administrative law judge will rule the strike an economic action, rather than an unfair labor practices strike.
"We've not kept the strikers out," Mr. Polovick said. "We've maintained from day one that the union had a couple of choices. They could accept the contract. They could reject it and strike. Or they could not accept it and work day to day. We had no choice but to hire replacements and continue to build tires."
"We provided the union with more information than we have in the previous three negotiations combined," he added.
Conti General has hired about 900 strikebreakers to boost production more than 70 percent of pre-strike capacity, the firm said.
The USWA claims that issuance of the second complaint just increases the likelihood that Charlotte workers will get their jobs back—along with back pay. The union noted that the U.S. government has a high success rate in conducting prosecutions.
"From here on out it's pretty predictable. It's a matter of when, not if," a USWA spokesman said.
Mr. Clark, though, indicated that the union would not be eligible for back pay to the beginning of the strike as things now stand. The NLRB has alleged in its complaint that Conti General's failure to give information did help start and prolong the strike, which does constitute an unfair labor practice.
But in most cases back pay only goes back to when the union makes an unconditional offer to return to work, the NLRB official said. Once a union makes that offer—normally after receiving a favorable ruling from the administrative law judge—the employer has to decide how strong its case is and may start bringing workers back.
"If the employer has a weak hand, they might start doing something to cut dollar losses," Mr. Clark said.
The USWA, however, argued that the company at some point during the strike terminated the workers, so there was no need to make the offer to return to work to get back pay. But the NLRB didn't agree, so the USWA is appealing that section of the ruling.
Mr. Clark did acknowledge that once the case gets to the hearing stage at least a portion of the NLRB complaints normally stand up. "Prosecutors are not supposed to issue complaints until they can win," he said.