If you've driven along Southwest 72nd Avenue in Tigard sometime over the past nine months, chances are you've glimpsed a band of picketers marching dutifully through January chill and June heat.
These are the employees of Williams Controls Inc., the people who built the throttle for pretty much every transit bus in the United States and for most of the country's heavy trucks. Half of them have worked there for more than 20 years. And, if you believe the National Labor Relations Board, their bosses have served them a high-octane dose of roguery.
Williams Controls was a profitable company for years, but a series of rotten investments by former CEO Thomas Itin in the mid-1990s plunged the business into severe debt. By the end of 2001, the company's net worth was negative $10.7 million. Struggling to keep afloat, the management started stripping pay and benefits: They proposed slashing wages by as much as $7 per hour (employees make an average of $14.50 an hour), cutting paid vacation days around Christmas, and ending bonuses and paid time off for funerals.
On Sept. 9, 2002, the 120 fed-up members of the United Auto Workers Local 492 who made up the Williams workforce went on strike--then the trouble really began.
According to a complaint by the NLRB, Williams "undermined the Union and failed to bargain in good faith." The federal regulators say the company used delaying tactics, refused to meet with its employees for negotiations, and even rejected its own proposals when Union officials accepted them. Once the 116 worn-down workers finally agreed to an unconditional surrender this April, Williams still wouldn't give them back their jobs--a big no-no in the labor world.
Williams spokesman Trent Smith declined to comment about the NLRB's complaint, which seeks immediate reinstatement for all union employees and back pay for all of the days since their offer to return. A hearing on the complaint has been set for July 21.