Union alleges Just Born employee posed as labor official, urged people to return to work

Harry Fisher/The Morning Call

From The Morning Call:

by Anthony Salamone

The union representing about 400 workers at Just Born Quality Confections has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging a nonunion employee posed as a union representative and urged striking members to return to their jobs.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 6 filed an unfair labor practice charge, union organizer John J. Price said Friday. He said the union had received several complaints that an unidentified nonunion company employee was telling striking members "they could cross the [picket] line, that it's OK to go back to work."

While a company can notify its workers of any consequences regarding a strike, the union alleges that Just Born is misleading the workers by its action.

Harold Maier, assistant regional director with the National Labor Relations Board's Philadelphia office, said the agency will review the complaint, which was filed Thursday, but a decision on its validity could take up to 10 weeks.

Matt Pye, Just Born's vice president of corporate affairs, said the company had not seen the complaint as of Friday afternoon.

"We can't comment until we see the details," he said. "Our hope is that the NLRB will rule pretty quickly."

Workers have been striking since Sept. 7 outside Just Born's headquarters and plant at 1300 Stefko Blvd. after negotiations on wages, health insurance and pension broke down, according to the union.

The key sticking point is the pension, according to the company. The union says Just Born wants to eliminate its defined pension, while the company says it is willing to keep current workers in the pension while putting new workers in a 401(k) retirement plan. The pension has simply gotten too costly, the company says.

A brief synopsis of the union's complaint appears on the NLRB website, but Maier said the entire case was not available Friday because the agency needs to review it first for any possible redactions.

The complaint against the maker of marshmallow Peeps, Mike and Ike, and other candy specifies it is an unfair labor practice for an employer "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed" under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Those rights include forming and joining a union and collective bargaining.

Meanwhile, the company has kept up production by using nonunion workers and hiring what it calls permanent replacement workers. Just Born held a job fair Thursday that drew about 175 people and at least 600 people have applied for jobs online.

A recent ruling by the NLRB subjects employers to penalties, such as back-pay liability, if the union can show that hiring replacement workers was a punitive measure or intended to prevent future walkouts. That ruling is under appeal.

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