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Armor Maker to Face Complaint

Workplace: Labor board says DHB Industries may have fired employees for considering a union.

September 23, 2002|From Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — The National Labor Relations Board plans to file a complaint against DHB Industries Inc., which makes the body armor worn by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, for firing employees who considered joining a union.

"We made a determination that a substantial number of the charges filed against the company were meritorious," said Jennifer Burgess-Solomon, supervisory attorney at the Miami office of the NLRB, an independent federal agency created in 1935 to investigate and remedy unfair labor practices.

A two-month probe of DHB's factory in Oakland Park, Fla., found that the company illegally retaliated against union supporters by firing three workers and threatening lower wages, a loss of benefits and a plant shutdown, Burgess-Solomon said. The agency dismissed company allegations that the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees picketed illegally and threatened employee representatives.

The filing of a complaint against the company, whose shares have lost half their value this year amid accusations by workers that defective vests were sold, would prompt a hearing by an administrative law judge. The judge could reinstate the workers with back pay, order the company to halt illegal practices and require signs be posted to explain workers' rights.

Dawn Schlegel, DHB's chief financial officer, said the company would prevail against any NLRB action. "We feel the complaint is unfounded," she said.

DHB, which was informed of the NLRB's decision last week, said in a statement Friday that the union stopped a plan to have employees vote on representation. The announcement helped spur a 24% surge in shares to $2.55 on American Stock Exchange trading of 741,700 shares, triple their three-month daily trading average.

"We are pleased that the union has recognized what we have always known: that our employees do not want this union," the company statement said on Friday.

Scott Cooper, an organizer with the union, said the group hasn't canceled a vote on representation. The union asked the NLRB to delay a vote because of concerns it wouldn't be fair. He said about 180 of the 400 workers at the company's Point Blank Armor unit in Florida have approached the union about joining.

"It's understandable that a union wouldn't want to go forward with an election where the idea of a free choice for the workers has been eroded," said William Gould, chairman of the NLRB from 1994 to 1998 and now a professor of labor law at Stanford University.

DHB, founded by Chief Executive David H. Brooks, could avert an administrative law judge hearing by reaching a settlement with the union. Cooper, the union representative, said "the chances are slim to none" for such a settlement. He said no talks have taken place and none are scheduled.

The union, which brought the case to the attention of the labor board, also asked U.S. lawmakers to investigate working conditions that it said included limited access to drinking water inside the plant, temperatures of more than 100 degrees, two toilets for almost 400 employees, one sick day per year and limited health-care benefits.

Ten members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee signed a letter to the company in July expressing concern about the working conditions at the factory, which is part of DHB's Point Blank unit.

The company, which values its contract to make body armor for the U.S. military at more than $350 million, last week settled a dispute with the New York City Police Department over the reliability of the company's vests.

The department commissioned tests of the bulletproof vests after a complaint, alleging defective ones were issued, was filed with a state labor agency by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. in February.

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