LAKEWOOD — The new president of the largest United Auto Workers local in the western United States called sheriff's deputies to a union meeting last week to throw out six members who had not paid their dues.
The six were among 17 fired from Douglas Aircraft Co. in Long Beach after taking part in one-day walkouts sanctioned by Bob Berghoff, then-president of Local 148, in December, 1986. Doug Griffith narrowly defeated Berghoff in a bitter election last fall to become president of the local, which represents 10,000 Douglas workers and about 5,000 retirees.
Once deputies arrived, the six union members left peacefully. Among them was Jim Wade, a Berghoff backer, who said this week that Griffith kicked the group out to eliminate the only source of dissent in the union.
"Griffith wants all organized opposition to not be allowed at his union meetings so he can dominate the floor," said Wade, adding that Berghoff was not part of the group and did not attend last week's meeting. "We got fired from the company for backing our union's play, and now we get kicked out of the union."
During an interview, Griffith called the group "troublemakers" and "freeloaders," adding that the UAW constitution allows locals to bar members from meetings if their dues are not paid.
"What's really going on here is (that) a handful of people refuse to accept the decision of the membership (to oust Berghoff)," Griffith said. "It's sour grapes from a bunch of losers."
At his first meeting as president, in March, the membership rejected Griffith's recommendation and voted to certify two members of the local's bargaining committee elected last year. Those two were among the 17 fired in 1987.
After the vote, Griffith appealed the matter to international union officials because the two members no longer worked for Douglas, and under the union's contract with the company, all seven bargaining committee members must be full-time employees.
Griffith also said that some of the fired union members had voted even though they were not in good standing with the union. Wade said he and the others did not take part in that vote, but Griffith said he saw them raise their hands during voting.
The international union has since ruled in Griffith's favor and the committee members will not be certified, the new president said.
Then at the start of the union's April 28 meeting, attended by about 350 members, Griffith asked the dissident group of six to leave, saying they were not in good standing because of delinquent dues.
The group refused an order from the sergeant-at-arms to leave, so Griffith called the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The six union members left quietly after deputies arrived.
"What else should I have done?" Griffith asked. "Wrestle them to the floor? What we tried to do was use the minimum amount of persuasion to get them out of the meeting."
Griffith acknowledged that had the six not challenged him in March, they probably would have been allowed to keep attending the meetings. He said he did not know of any other time in the local's 46-year history when law-enforcement officers had been called to remove members who were delinquent in their dues.
"If they had been sitting quietly in the corner, the issue never would have been raised," he said.
Wade said that he tried to pay his back dues of about $115 but that union officials would not accept the money. Griffith said that under the union constitution, the only way the six can be readmitted is if they are rehired by Douglas, a division of McDonnell Douglas Corp. and Long Beach's largest employer.
However, Henry Gonzales, the UAW's assistant director for Region 6, said members of the local have the right to grant an exception in the case of someone with delinquent dues. Gonzales said one of the ejected union members had called the regional office and was advised to appeal the matter to the local president's office.
Wade said he and the others are talking to a lawyer about whether the union can be sued for throwing them out of the meeting and said the group plans to attend the next meeting May 26. "We're going to fight them on this," Wade said.
Griffith said he does not expect that the group will quietly go away, adding that he "will do whatever is necessary within the law to uphold the constitution of the union."
He said he is considering seeking a restraining order to keep the group from attending union meetings.
It is ironic, Wade said, that while the six have been barred from union meetings, Local 148 has paid $125,000 in legal fees trying to get the 17 fired workers rehired.
Those workers, including Berghoff, were dismissed for allegedly inciting fellow employees to take part in a work slowdown and half-day walkout in June, 1987.
Griffith said that the union is fighting those firings and that the matter is pending before the National Labor Relations Board.