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Cal Spas Strike Ends, but 200 Lose Jobs

July 22, 1993|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POMONA — About 200 workers from Pomona's Cal Spas ended their monthlong walkout this week and offered to return to work, but were told they would be contacted if jobs filled by permanent replacement workers became available, according to union and company officials.

The strikers say they walked off the job June 18 in protest of unfair labor practices by Cal Spas, including harassment of pro-union workers and other efforts to sabotage a union election.

Spokesmen for Cal Spas, which manufactures fiberglass spas and their wood frames, say strikers walked off in an effort to gain official recognition of the union, a scenario that under federal labor law allows the company to replace them permanently.

The labor dispute has degenerated to allegations of violence and harassment on both sides. As the bitter standoff between Cal Spas and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America intensified, union officials and community activists stepped up efforts to persuade the Pomona City Council to take a stand on the matter.

"We're asking for the City Council to do whatever is within their power to make sure the workers are returned to their jobs and the replacements are terminated," union representative Humberto Camacho told the council during public comment at Monday's meeting.

Latino community activist Fabian Nunez also asked the council to investigate whether Cal Spas is abiding by environmental regulations.

All the workers who went out on strike are Latino.

Several council members have expressed sympathy for the striking workers, but are remaining neutral in the conflict, fearing that Cal Spas might pack up and move to Arizona or Nevada, states that have reportedly wooed the manufacturer.

"What the council did recommend was that staff look into the areas of concern regarding hazardous materials that are utilized in the plant, and that staff come back with a report on this," said Councilman Marco Robles.

Camacho and Nunez told the council that the company's refusal to hire the workers back and lay off replacement workers was an affront to Pomona and a violation of law.

"Because the workers were involved in a strike caused by the unfair labor practices of the company, they have the right to return to work immediately at the end of the strike," said a letter submitted to the council by Camacho.

"It's a matter of waiting until there's an opening," said Jon G. Miller, an attorney with an Orange County law firm that has been retained by Cal Spas to handle the strike issue. "Replacement workers are not being let go. Our position is that it is not an unfair labor practices strike. It's an economic strike."

Both the union and the company have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, a process that has put a scheduled union election at the plant on hold.

If the board rules that Cal Spas engaged in unfair labor practices, the company would have to reinstate all strikers immediately and pay back wages dating to the day the strike ended, said William Pate, regional attorney for the NLRB.

Pate said he could not comment on the Cal Spas case.

Workers who lined up in front of the Pomona plant to be reinstated Monday and Tuesday received terse notes notifying them that they had been replaced for leaving work without authorization and participating in a job action against the company.

Although no one has been hired back since Monday, Miller said nine workers had previously offered to return to work unconditionally, and four of them were rehired.

Miller said some workers were being told they could not qualify for work because of physical disabilities and needed to first show a doctor's note indicating they were healthy enough to work.

A handful of other workers have been told they were fired for "engaging in conduct during the strike which could have been cause for termination, absent the strike," Miller said.

Camacho said several key events influenced the union's decision to end the strike, including the economic hardships of the strikers.

Now that the strike is formally over, the workers are applying for unemployment benefits.

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