WASHINGTON - One of the two DuPont Co. plants embroiled in disputes about company-organized employee teams has re-solved its differences over the contentious labor issue. Union members withdrew their National Labor Relations Board complaint against DuPont's Niagara Falls, N.Y., chemical plant May 13, after management agreed not to include bargaining unit members in the plant's worker ``teams.''
Still pending before NLRB is a similar complaint against Du-Pont's polyvinyl fluoride film and Corian countertop material manufacturing operations in neighboring Tonawanda, N.Y.
NLRB regional director James Palermo said May 14 in Buffalo, N.Y., that the Niagara Plant Employees Union had charged DuPont two months earlier with improperly forming work teams in June 1995. The result, the union claimed, was a company-sponsored group whose role illegally interfered with that of the union concerning conditions of employment.
Stephen Fleury, wage and hour chairman of the Niagara Plant Employees Union, said May 15 that plant management volunteered to remove his union's employees from the work teams, so the complaint was dropped.
Employers consider the teams vital to the rapid solution of employee-related problems and cite the pressure of international competition as the need for them. Unions object to teams as devices to bypass the union in negotiating with employees over working conditions.
Christopher Weidner, Niagara Falls plant employee relations manager, said the firm's team concept is ``one of the things we use to communicate to the plant.''
No policies or procedures had been implemented through the use of teams, he said.
The plant, a joint venture between DuPont and Olin Corp., is for sale. The facility makes feedstock chemicals, including chlorine and caustic soda.
At the Tonawanda plant, the DuPont Yerkes Union claimed teams interfered with the union ``by unilaterally changing the probation period and requiring employees to join labor management councils,'' according to the pending NLRB complaint, filed March 5.
Acting Yerkes Union President James Gant said ``plant management wanted an employee to serve against his will as a champion for safety'' and be a resource for safety information. The employee had been reprimanded, Gant said, because the employee had ``turned [his] equipment off, but didn't lock it out.''
The worker, still employed at Yerkes, admitted the infraction, which Gant said ``was not intentional or abnormal.''
``The company denied the employee his due process of representation,'' Gant said.
An NLRB hearing has not been scheduled pending the results of the investigation.
The situation in the Buffalo-area plants mirrors a national controversy over the function of company-organized employee teams.
Controversial since the first NLRB case in 1913, worker teams moved to the congressional front burner when then-Senate Major-ity Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., hinted earlier this month he would attach a team-defining measure to the Clinton-favored bill increasing the federal minimum wage.
The 70-year-old National Labor Relations Act prohibits ``company unions,'' but the Teamwork for Employees and Managers Act, passed last year in the House and pending in the Senate, would amend that law to create non-union employee teams to discuss worker matters.
Highly partisan debate rages in Congress over the issue, with Re-publicans in favor and Democrats generally opposed. In an attempt to circumvent an almost certain veto by Clinton, Dole proposed adding the Teamwork Act as a rider on the current measure to increase the national minimum wage.
Chris Burke, spokesman for the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, noted the GOP measure ``would bring the workplace into the '90s.''
``Nobody knows how to improve a business [better] than those who work in it on the line. It cannot touch unions,'' said Burke, adding that an amendment assures the measure would not apply to union shops and would not be used for the purposes of collective bargaining.
``It allows employers and employees to set up teams for the purpose of productivity, health and safety, basically for making a better product. It allows employees more control over management-type decisions.''