SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—After enduring unfair labor practice charges, safety allegations and fines, and a shareholder lawsuit during the last 21/2 years, Maurice "The Grizz" Taylor Jr. has struck back.
Tire and wheel maker Titan International Inc. filed a $240 million federal racketeering lawsuit Sept. 28 against the United Steelworkers of America; several of its district offices; 130 named individuals, including its president, officers and many members; and 100 "John Doe" defendants.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in Springfield, claims there has been an "ongoing pattern of criminal racketeering activities" stemming from the long strikes at Titan tire plants in Des Moines, Iowa, and Natchez, Miss.
The complaint, filed pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), further says the defendants in the case implemented an "unlawful scheme to defraud, corrupt, interfere with existing business relationships, coerce, extort, conspire, make bomb threats, commit criminal trespass, file frivolous lawsuits, file false hearing loss claims, commit mail fraud and commit other unlawful acts."
Mr. Taylor, Titan's president and CEO, said he believes the USWA and its members have overstepped their bounds in actions taken during the strikes.
"They feel they're exempt from the laws because of the labor dispute," he said. "There's been a concerted effort coming from the (USWA) International. They don't want me in the tire business."
He's pursuing charges through the RICO Act and the federal court system because he feels Quincy, Ill.-based Titan won't get a fair shake through the National Labor Relations Board, which has upheld several labor practice charges filed by the union against his company.
Mr. Taylor added that under federal racketeering laws, a suit like this one can carry treble damages, meaning a victory could be worth more than $720 million.
The USWA responded quickly to the announcement of the lawsuit, calling the complaint "another in a long line of ludicrous assertions by a misguided CEO whose attempts at union-busting have succeeded in doing nothing but causing suffering for hundreds of working families and shareholders alike."
John Peno, president of USWA Local 164 in Des Moines and one of the suit's named defendants, called the legal action frivolous and an act of retaliation against the union and its members. But he also said it has to be taken seriously.
"We will vigorously defend against this complaint and any defendant in it," Mr. Peno said. "I welcome any investigation that takes place, because it will find no wrongdoing. I'm confident this strike has been conducted legally."
In addition to Mr. Peno, the suit's named defendants include USWA President George Becker; vice presidents Richard Davis and Leon Lynch; Secretary-Treasurer Leo Gerard; John Sellers, executive vice president of the union's Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference; and Leo Bradley, president of Local 303 in Natchez, which like Local 164, has been on strike since 1998.
The 126-page lawsuit outlines several scenarios allegedly attributed to named and unnamed defendants, including 12 bomb threats at the two striking tire plants and Titan's wheel facility in Quincy; more than 100 acts of coercion, intimidation or property damage, mostly against replacement workers hired during the strikes; and more than 40 acts of interfering with commerce and business relationships.
The latter category includes threats against Titan lender Harris Trust and Savings Bank in Chicago; demonstrations at various trade shows; a "frivolous" derivative complaint against Mr. Taylor and the Titan directors; and published press releases and reports that misrepresented the firm's financial standing, according to the suit.
It also alleges there was a conspiracy to file hearing loss claims among some of the defendants. Titan says that in June 1999 there were 82 separate Iowa worker's compensation claims for hearing loss from strikers stating their date of hearing loss was May 1, 1998, the date the Des Moines strike began.
Titan charges the claims were filed without medical evidence supporting the injuries between each employee's hiring and the date an injury was claimed.