Dura-Line Plant Closing Was Economic Move, Not Anti-Union

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Dura-Line Corp., a pipe and conduit manufacturer, didn’t violate federal law when it closed its only unionized plant and transferred work to nonunion locations, the National Labor Relations Board decided.

NLRB Members Lauren McFerran (D), Marvin E. Kaplan (R), and William J. Emanuel (R) rejected an administrative law judge’s conclusion that Dura-Line, a subsidiary of Mexichem, closed its Middlesboro, Ky., facility because the United Steelworkers represented employees there.

The ALJ cited comments and threats by plant managers as evidence of an unlawful anti-union motivation, but the board said in its July 12 decision that Dura-Line had “compelling economic reasons” for its actions that were unrelated to the union’s presence at Middlesboro or labor-management relations at the company’s one unionized plant.

The NLRB considers threats and coercive statements by managers to be serious unfair labor practices, but the decision shows the board won’t assume such remarks prove that a company made a major business decision for illegal reasons. Even where there’s some evidence of labor-management friction, the board can be persuaded that a company acted lawfully in response to legitimate financial or operational concerns.

USW Was at Plant 1987-2015

The Steelworkers represented employees at Dura-Line’s Kentucky plant from 1987 until the plant closed in 2015, according to the decision. Dura-Line proposed closing the plant in 2014 when the company was purchased by Mexichem, a multinational chemical company, but no action was taken until February 2015. A roof collapse at the Middlesboro facility that month forced Dura-Line to explore relocation of work and upgrading of manufacturing technology at facilities in Tennessee, Ohio, and Georgia.

The Kentucky plant was closed in December 2015 when the company completed a transfer of the work performed by the USW-represented employees.

Dura-Line bargained with the USW about the effects of the relocation on bargaining unit employees, but the union filed unfair labor practice charges alleging the company’s moves were motivated by anti-union bias. The board members disagreed.

The board agreed that Middlesboro managers unlawfully coerced USW members by telling them the company was moving work away from Middlesboro in response to union activities like the USW obtaining the reinstatement of two fired employee. However, McFerran, Kaplan, and Emanuel said the company showed that it was reorganizing to permit expanded production and new technology that wouldn’t be possible at the outdated Middlesboro plant.

It was “implausible” that Dura-Line would have recommended that Mexichem undertake a $20 million relocation and expansion program just to relieve itself of grievances at Middlesboro or to undermine the USW, the board said. It dismissed the allegation that the company illegally closed the Kentucky plant and transferred work to other locations.

NLRB attorneys represented the board’s general counsel. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C. represented Dura-Line. United Steelworkers counsel and Priddy, Cutler, Naake & Meade represented the union.

The case is Dura-Line Corp., 2018 BL 247625, 366 N.L.R.B. No. 126, 7/12/18.

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