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An administrative law judge has ordered a Louisiana shipyard to pay $10 million in legal fees, back pay and benefits, and to reinstate 22 workers fired during a massive six-year, anti-union campaign. In a 275-page opinion, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Judge Philip McLeod found 141 labor violations by New Orleans-based Avondale Industries. Most of the executives responsible left when the firm was purchased by Litton Corp. in 1999. Litton has since been acquired by Northrop Grumman Corp. The extraordinary July 12 ruling also requires the company to publish the NLRB order in the New Orleans Times-Picayune once a week for a month. McLeod listed interrogations, warnings, layoffs and firings by Avondale managers that began when its 4,100 employees voted in 1993 to have the New Orleans Metal Trades Council bargain for them. “The respondent waged an aggressive counter-campaign that was broad in scope, reckless in implementation and that is likely to have a continuing coercive effect on the free exercise of employee rights,” he wrote. But a lawyer for Northrop Grumman who declined to be identified says that, of the 102 employees who alleged wrongful terminations in three separate NLRB actions against Avondale, “we won 51 and the government won 51.” In addition to ordering the reinstatement of employees who were fired for union activity, the judge told the shipyard to pay legal fees incurred by the union and the NLRB; to reimburse 25 disciplined employees for lost wages, benefits and seniority; and to erase personnel file references to union activity. Garry G. Mathiason, a labor law expert at San Francisco’s Littler Mendelson, says the penalties imposed by the court were unusual. “We’ve always understood that those are potential remedies, but they’re uncommon except in the contempt area,” he says. McLeod also ordered the shipyard to repay $5.4 million that it had billed the U.S. Navy for fees associated with the litigation. When the Clinton Administration discovered the payments in 1999, it issued a military procurement rule barring such payments to any company — a rule repealed by Congress this year. A spokesman for Northrop Grumman said the company “strongly disagrees” with the order. Grumman has until Sept. 17 to appeal the decision to the full NLRB. The current case, New Orleans Metal Trades Council v. Avondale Industries Inc., 15-CA-12639, is one of three labor actions brought against the shipyard since 1993. The vast number of witnesses and exhibits, the litigation contesting the 1993 union election and a Northrop Grumman Freedom of Information Act request, says one defense lawyer, were responsible for the dispute’s length. In a 1998 ruling in the first Avondale case, Administrative Law Judge Donald Evans found numerous labor violations by the shipyard. Evans held that 28 employees had been fired for union activity, and he ordered them reinstated with back pay. He also issued a broad cease-and-desist order against Avondale due to its “general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights.” That case is before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Several employee complaints severed from the original trial, known as Avondale I, came before McLeod in a trial that same year. The instant case is a continuation of Avondale I, explains McLeod, “because the matter … was so voluminous that there came a point where it was necessary to stop receiving evidence and allow another judge to hear the remaining issues.” The first trial, lasting nearly two years, produced 41,000 pages of transcript. The second trial, lasting nine months, yielded 19,000 pages. After the firings, Avondale officials told pro-union employees “they were next,” ordered the removal of all union insignia, isolated pro-union employees and questioned employees about their testimony before the NLRB. “Avondale’s response to the findings of unfair labor practices was to perform more unfair labor practices,” said union lawyer William Lurye of New Orleans’ Robein, Urann & Lurye. “It was a continuation of conduct that [began] in 1993.” That year, the union obtained bargaining rights for the company’s work force after an NLRB-sponsored election. When the shipyard was purchased by Litton in 1999, the new management agreed to bargain with the union. In addition to its anti-union tactics, McLeod also excoriated the shipyard for obstructionist litigation tactics after the initiation of the suit, when it was “willing to concede almost nothing.”

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