Organized labor was defeated in elections held Dec. 7-8 covering more than 1,500 plastics workers at Little Tikes' rotational molding toy factory in Hudson, Ohio, and the GE Plastics ABS resin plant near Parkersburg, W.Va. Both factories have tested the staying power of the unions involved, since the latest defeats mark the second time workers at the firms have rejected representation in elections by the National Labor Relations Board.
Efforts to organize the Little Tikes headquarters plant date back at least five years. If workers had approved a union, the Hudson complex would have become one of the largest U.S. unionized plants outside the automotive industry, with 1,052 organized members. Instead, workers voted down the United Steelworkers of America by a vote of 550-454. The union managed to do better than in 1990, when rotomolding employees soundly rejected organizing by more than a 3-to-1 ratio, 573-166. The potential bargaining unit was smaller in 1990.
The latest rejection came just a few days after Little Tikes parent Rubbermaid Inc. announced a major restructuring, laying off about 1,200 workers. Included in the layoffs are about 300 workers at Rubbermaid's big headquarters molding plant in Wooster, Ohio, where employees are represented by the United Steel Workers. A Little Tikes plant in Guelph, Ontario, will be closed next year, eliminating 128 nonunion jobs.
The USW did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
In a statement, Little Tikes President Gary Kleinjan said the workers' ``decision to reject the union demonstrates their willing-ness to work as a team to help Little Tikes remain a leader in an increasingly challenging marketplace.''
In Washington, W.Va., workers at GE's ABS plant rejected union overtures by a 286-185 vote. Members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America had portrayed the campaign as the first step in a drive to organize all GE Plastics' resin plants.
Three years ago, the ABS workers rejected the UE by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
This time, in September, the UE submitted its petition for another election, with authorization cards signed by a majority of Washington ABS workers. In October, GE and the UE agreed to the size of the bargaining unit and set a date for the election.
Will the UE keep trying to organize the plant?
``We're going to do some evaluating of our decision over the next few weeks to see what to do next,'' said Al Hart, UE field organizer, who has an office in Parkersburg.
Karen Hern, spokeswoman for the Washington plant, said: ``We would hope that after two elections, with the larger percentage of votes against the UE, that the UE would understand the message. ... The majority of employees said that we certainly can work together without the involvement of a third party.''
Still pending before the NLRB are appeals of an administrative law judge's ruling on several unfair labor practice charges. The UE charges that GE management threatened to take away some benefits, shift work schedules and withhold future investment from the plant if the union won. The judge agreed, but GE appealed to the full NLRB.
The union also charged an employee was fired illegally for union activity. But the judge ruled in favor of GE, and the union has appealed.
Hern said the vote ``was an indication that our employees want to get down to the business of making ABS. The site's gone through two elections in the past three years and that's certainly distracted us.