WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled March 17 that a California PVC compounder must give back pay to an employee it illegally fired in retaliation for organizing a union. Hoffman Plastic Compounds Inc., however, told the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington that since the worker was in the United States illegally, the firm should not have to pay the more than $100,000 in back wages.
Hoffman is not sure if it will appeal, said Ryan McCortney, a Costa Mesa, Calif., lawyer who represented the Paramount, Calif.-based company.
The court said Jose Castro, who operated a blending machine for minimum wage, was fired in 1989 after he distributed union authorization cards to other employees. The judges upheld a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.
Castro testified at an NLRB hearing that he was a Mexican citizen, and fraudulently used a birth certificate of a friend born in El Paso, Texas, to get the job, according to the NLRB.
McCortney said Hoffman did not fire the workers because of union activities, but said they were laid off for economic reasons. The NLRB said economic conditions did force layoffs, but said the company targeted people "to rid itself of known union supporters."
Castro and other employees later were offered their jobs back, but Castro did not respond to the letter, McCortney said. The court said the company tried to hire the workers back after the union filed a petition with NLRB.
He said Hoffman did not knowingly hire an illegal worker. The NLRB declined to answer questions about the case, but according to McCortney, the agency said in 1998 that it could not locate Castro. The case divided both the NLRB and the court. One member of the three-judge appeals court panel sided with the company.