Union protest comes to Ojai
By Jesse Phelps
A person attempting to catch
an early round of golf or a massage to start off the weekend
might have expected to encounter construction at the Ojai Valley
Inn & Spa on Friday morning. The presence of picketers, however,
might have come as a surprise.
The picket line, which contained only about 10 people, was set
up by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. It
was, union officials say, the result of the firing of an unnamed
employee from a construction site on the campus of UCLA by Helix
Electric, which also counts the inn among its clients.
Shane Werner, business manager for the Ventura chapter of the
IBEW, said, "It was an informational picket only. We were
there in support of an employee who was, we feel, discriminated
against because of his union affiliation."
"Typically a file is charged by the IBEW with the National
Labor Relations Board," explained Ronald Selvaggio, human
resource manager for Helix Electric Office in Los Angeles. "And
naturally when a file is charged, they have do an investigation.
That doesn't necessarily say that the charge that is filed is
Predictably Selvaggio claimed that in this case, the employee's
union affiliation had nothing to do with his release. "The
employee didn't follow company policies and was given proper
warnings," he said. "Helix Electric was consistent
with its policies in terminating this person. This charge is
just now under investigation by the NLRB and no determination
at this time has been made."
The union has indeed filed a complaint with the National Labor
Relations Board. Details surrounding the exact nature of the
firing cannot be revealed until the investigation is complete.
For now, the employee remains unidentified.
Meanwhile, the union also set up similar informational pickets
at a number of Helix Electric sites throughout the state.
Selvaggio said that such union protests, informational or otherwise,
occurring while the charge is still under investigation, can
become a hindrance to the work being done.
"The IBEW will typically throw up picket lines, using that
interim time between when the file is charged and when the NLRB
makes their determination to disrupt jobs and perform work stoppages
on jobs either related to the particular job or jobs unrelated,"
Selvaggio said Helix Electric takes the form of a "marriage
shop," or one that employs both union and non-union workers.
"We pay people according to their qualifications and what
they do and not because they're part of any organization,"
He intimated that he felt that the union regularly jumps the
gun and resorts to questionable tactics, despite their right
to protest. "(A firing) gives them an opening and a legal
way to throw up the picket lines," said Selvaggio. "As
far as they're concerned, we're presumed guilty until a determination
is made and they'll use that time to picket and disrupt jobs."
Despite the protest, however, the Inn's media relations manager
said everything is proceeding according to plan. "It is
on schedule at this time," said Merrill Williams. "We're
hoping to be ready to reopen the resort about a year from now
- late August or early September, 2004. We have no reason at
this time to believe that we wont be able to do that."
Williams said that Helix Electric and all other subcontractors
have been hired by R.D. Olsen, the managing general contractior
of the inn's expansion project.
"We've directed them to manage this entire construction
project as an open shop, employing union as well as non-union
labor," said Williams. "All contracts have been and
will continue to be awarded based on cost and quality of workmanship,
whether its union or nonunion labor."
Williams said the inn will remain dedicated to employing the
best available talent at the best available price. "The
selection of contractors and subcontractors on all phases of
the project is based on fair-labor practices," she said.
"And also making the best possible business decisions to
bring the project in on-time and on budget."
The Ojai Valley News
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