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Administrative Law Judge finds Louisiana mining company committed unfair labor practices in dealing with its union employees

A National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge has found that a Louisiana salt mining operation committed numerous unfair labor practices in dealing with its union employees, including making unlawful threats of termination, persistently refusing to bargain in good faith, and unlawfully implementing new working conditions without bargaining.

In her August 1 decision, Judge Margaret G. Brakebusch also found that the Carey Salt Company, a subsidiary of Compass Minerals International, Inc., unlawfully refused to immediately reinstate about 84 employees who staged a strike to protest the unlawful practices, including 31 who are still not working there. She also found that the company still maintains unlawfully imposed terms and conditions of employment. She ordered the company to offer reinstatement with full backpay, and to restore the employees’ original terms and conditions of employment.

In all, Judge Brakebusch found 15 violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

Compass Minerals, a leading global salt production company based in Overland Park, Kansas, operates three salt mines internationally, including one in Cote Blanche, Louisiana. For at least 40 years, the United Steelworkers and Local Union 14425 have represented miners and maintenance workers at the Cote Blanche mine.

Bargaining for a new contract began in February 2010. After some initial progress, negotiations stalled when the employer sought unlimited managerial discretion to assign jobs regardless of the employees’ title or skills, to extend the miners’ workdays to 11 hours, and to change overtime distribution, which would reduce their compensation. In mid-March, the company presented a complete contract proposal that ignored suggestions from the union and withdrew some provisions that had previously been negotiated.

Union members voted to reject the proposal, after which the employer unilaterally imposed its terms and conditions and refused to bargain any further with the union. On April 7, union members voted to strike.

The company eventually resumed negotiations, but began a pattern of regressive bargaining. Union members offered to return to work on June 15, 2010. Rather than reinstating the strikers, the company placed them on a “preferential hire list” and made periodic hires over the following six months under the newly-imposed terms and conditions of work.

Judge Brakebusch found the Employer’s conduct and regressive bargaining proposals “effectively insured that no meaningful negotiations could follow” and “did not evidence a desire to reach an agreement.”  She also found that the miners’ strike was an unfair labor practice strike, thereby making the employer’s refusal to reinstate all strikers after their offer to return to work a violation of labor law. 

Judge Brakebusch presided over the six-day trial in Lydia, Louisiana, in March 2011. Several field attorneys from the New Orleansregional office handled the case: Beauford Pines initially investigated the matter, Stephen Bensinger served as lead trial attorney, and Andrew Miragliotta wrote the Post-Trial Brief on behalf of the Acting General Counsel.

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