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Injunction filed against Novelis overturned in federal court

Gino Geruntino
Novelis, an aluminum manufacturer, rolls the aluminum used in many vehicle models. (file photo)

An injunction filed against Novelis Aluminum in Oswego to allow the United Steelworkers Union to represent the plant’s employees immediately and force the plant to bargain was denied by a federal court judge, who also ruled for the union in some respects.

In February, a vote on whether or not to unionize the plant failed by 14 votes. But the USW claimed Novelis had interfered with the vote.

Plant Manager Chris Smith says the ruling confirms what the company has been saying all along.

“At the end of the day, to have the judge come back and confirm that we did, in fact, conduct a fair and lawful campaign, that’s allowed us to conduct an ongoing open dialogue with our employees,” Smith said. “It’s huge going forward. It lays a great foundation for the growth of the opportunities that we’ve got ahead of us.”

But Novelis didn't walk away from the suit completely unscathed. The company is barred from threatening employees with reduced hours, more onerous working conditions or say the plant may shut down, and is restricted from performing a slew of other activities that could be deemed as interference or meddling in union activities.

Novelis also has to restore one employee to his former position and wage, and post copies of the court decision where employees can see and read them. The decision must also grant the NLRB the opportunity to enter the facility to make sure the plant is complying.

In a written statement, USW International President Leo Gerard praised these portions of the court's decision.

“While we welcome this ruling as a major victory for the workers in Oswego, it’s unfortunate that it took such a rare and sweeping court order to get Novelis to do what it should have done months ago,” said Gerard.

But Smith says the recent decision has been good for the company.

“While morale I don’t think has suffered, we’re in pretty good shape in that regard, the distraction is something that has been a continual concern, if you will, and will continue to be so until the ALJ hearing is complete,” Smith said.

And the legal battles between Novelis and the USW aren’t over yet, because there is still a second suit that needs to be settled with the National Labor Relations Board.

The National Labor Relations Board filed charges against Novelis on behalf of the USW. That case is currently being heard by an administrative law judge, or ALJ, in Syracuse. Both sides have said in prior interviews that they don’t expect a decision to be handed down anytime soon.