A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Friday turned aside an 11th-hour effort to halt implementation of Japanese-style work rules next week at the General Motors auto assembly plant in Van Nuys.
After an hourlong hearing, Judge Ricardo A. Torres refused to issue a restraining order that was sought as part of a suit filed Friday afternoon by four of the plant's employees, including Peter Z. Beltran, president of United Auto Workers Local 645, which represents hourly production workers at the facility. The suit seeks to block permanently the dramatic changes in the factory's operating procedures.
The suit contends that workers will be "irreparably harmed" if a new contract that permits the work-rule changes is implemented as scheduled on Monday morning. Scores of job classifications will be eliminated under the new agreement, which calls for a "team concept" type of production in which workers will perform a variety of jobs rather than a single task, as they have in the past.
Helena Wise, the plaintiffs' lawyer, contended in court that 800 jobs will be eliminated eventually if the new system is implemented.
In declining to grant a temporary restraining order, Torres said the plaintiffs had not persuaded him that they would suffer irreparable harm, the legal standard for granting such an order before a lawsuit is tried. However, he set May 28 for a lengthier hearing on whether the plaintiffs should get a preliminary injunction halting the new agreement.
Friday's legal action was the latest chapter in an intense struggle that has been taking place over the last four years concerning the Van Nuys plant's future.
Last May, in a narrow vote, the plant's workers voted to try the Japanese-style work rules in hopes that they would save jobs. GM has put the plant on its endangered list for several years, saying car production at the facility was no longer profitable. Although the vote did not specify a date for the new rules to take effect, Bruce Lee, Western regional director of the UAW, said at the time that the new agreement would not be implemented "until we've got a commitment from GM for a new (car) at Van Nuys."
According to the lawsuit, however, a decision was subsequently made by Lee and other union officials to move ahead on the team concept without such a guarantee. Thus far, the only assurance GM has made is to continue production of Chevrolet Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds at the plant for "the foreseeable future."
The suit contends that UAW officials violated the union constitution and denied workers their rightful voice in a final decision on whether to bring in the new system.
The suit also alleges that the California Employment Training Panel improperly allocated $20 million in state money to help retrain employees at the plant because it had not made a sufficient investigation whether the union and GM really needed the money for retraining.
And the suit asserts that certain UAW officials, including Lee, might benefit financially from the deal because a nonprofit company in which they are officials--UAW Labor Employment & Training Corp.--will receive contracts to offer the training.
The request for a temporary restraining order was vigorously opposed by lawyers from GM, the UAW international and the California Attorney General's office, representing the Employment Training Panel.
Henry Willis, a lawyer for the UAW international, asserted that if the judge granted a restraining order it would cause 2,000 workers at the plant, who are due to be recalled from layoff Monday to begin training at a Woodland Hills junior high school, to lose their jobs.
Leslie Sibe, a lawyer from the attorney general's office, also asserted that if the restraining order was issued, it would "put people out of work."