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United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO-CLC v. Eaglepicher Technologies, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

September 30, 2016

UNITED STEEL, PAPER AND FORESTRY, RUBBER, MANUFACTURING, ENERGY, ALLIED INDUSTRIAL AND SERVICE WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO-CLC, Plaintiff,
v.
EAGLEPICHER TECHNOLOGIES, LLC, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT & CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          DOUGLAS HARPOOL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court held a bench trial in this matter on January 21, 2016. Following the presentation of evidence, the Court left the record open to accommodate the videotaped deposition of defense witness Douglas Hamel. The Court ordered the parties to submit their closing arguments through written submissions and to brief the legal issues presented. Upon review of the trial record as a whole, the Court hereby enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. Defendant EaglePicher Technologies, LLC (“EaglePicher” or “Company”) operates a manufacturing facility in Joplin, Missouri that produces specialty batteries for military and other use. Trial Tr. 5, 10, 14, 105; Hamel Tr. 9; Doc. 51, at 3.

         2. Prior to April 11, 2016, Plaintiff United Steel, Paper and Forestry Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO-CLC (“Union”) represented a bargaining unit of approximately 200 hourly production and maintenance employees at the Company's facility on “C” and Porter Streets in Joplin, Missouri. Trial Tr. 40; Hamel Tr. 7.[1]

         3. David Jackson was employed by EaglePicher in the bargaining unit at the Joplin facility from June 1981 until his termination in January 2014. Trial Tr. 51. For his last 14 years at EaglePicher, Jackson was a group leader over parts fabrication and worked in the dry room where batteries were assembled. Trial Tr. 58-59. Jackson was Vice President of Local 812L for approximately six years prior to his termination. Trial Tr. 60; Hamel Tr. 32.

         4. Peggy Johnson was employed by EaglePicher in the bargaining unit at the Joplin facility from 1986 until her termination in January 2014. Trial Tr. 97. Johnson worked in the dry room for most of her time at EaglePicher, and she was a parts fabricator for her last 10-12 years. Trial Tr. 98. Johnson was a Union steward for at least 15 years prior to her termination. Trial Tr. 100.

         5. Teresa Buckmaster has been employed in the bargaining unit at the Joplin facility for 36 years. Tr. 13. She has worked in the dry room and her current position requires her to visit the dry room several times a day. Tr. 14-15. Buckmaster has been president of Local 812L since 2008. Tr. 16.

         6. Douglas Hamel worked for EaglePicher in Human Resources for approximately 11 years and was the Company's Human Resources Director from 2010 to 2014 (the highest ranking HR position and responsible for eight or nine EPT facilities in the U.S. and Canada). Hamel Tr. 6-7.

         7. The most recent collective bargaining agreement between the Company and the Union expired on May 2, 2008 but the Court found the Union's acceptance of terms and conditions unilaterally implemented by the Company after bargaining to impasse created an interim agreement such that the Court has jurisdiction under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relationship Act of 1947. Doc. 51, at 3, 7-8. The Court found the interim agreement does not require arbitration of grievances but does require proper cause for discipline or discharge. Doc. 51, at 9-12.

         8. Some of the Company's operations are conducted in “dry room” facilities where humidity is maintained at less than 1% to prevent adverse reactions with lithium and other chemicals used in the manufacturing process. Hamel Tr. 27.

         9. The Company has long had a rule prohibiting eating or drinking in the “dry room” operations where certain battery products are assembled. Hamel Tr. 8-9; Trial Tr. 6, 32, 75.

         10. Lithium, which is used in the dry room, is highly flammable and can start a fire if it comes into contact with liquids. Hamel Tr. 8.

         11. Food can cause contamination of batteries, and eating or drinking in the dry room can be a safety hazard if chemicals used in the production process were to be ingested. Hamel Tr. 8-9.

         12. Signs posted outside the dry room prohibit liquids in the dry room but do not mention a prohibition of food. Trial Tr. 16, 105.

         13. Supervisors are responsible for training hourly employees working in the dry room regarding the rules of food and drink. Hamel Tr. 27.

         14. In 2009, disciplinary actions were initiated against both Jackson and Johnson and they were disciplined for eating and drinking in the dry room. Trial Tr. 33, 71, 75, 90-91, 101. The company initially determined they were to be suspended for three days each, but the Union grieved the suspensions. The grievances were settled by the company with an agreement to reduce the discipline from a suspension to a written warning. Trial Tr. 33, 71, 101; Hamel Tr. 33-34. The settlement agreement states that “[t]he Company and the Union agree that it is a serious violation of Company rules, and extremely dangerous for any employee to bring any liquids (emphasis added) into any of the Company's dry rooms” and “any violation of this rule is serious misconduct, which will subject an employee who violates the rule to severe disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.” Def. Ex. 1. The settlement makes no mention of eating in the dry room, and includes no discussion of eating in the dry room as a hazard, or any disciplinary consequence of eating in the dry room.

         15. At some point between 2009 and 2014, bargaining unit employee Jake Tillman was suspended three days for drinking soda pop in the dry room. Trial Tr. 35; Hamel Tr. 11.

         16. Between approximately 2009 and 2014, there was a community candy jar in the dry room that employees, including supervisors, would take candy from and eat. Supervisors would hand out bags of candy in the dry room around holidays and employees would open the bags and eat the candy in the dry room. Trial Tr. 65-68, 70, 72, 82, 91-92, 102-103.

         17. Supervisors of the dry room instructed employees to hide the community candy jar during an audit but would permit the employees to bring the candy jar back after completion of the audit. Trial Tr. 67-68.

         18. Supervisors regularly ate food in their offices adjacent to the dry ...


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