April 19, 2014

Medina
Mostly sunny
51°F

Ohio judge allows GM workers to sue over back pay

By John Seewer

TOLEDO — A group of General Motors workers in Northeast Ohio who say they were wrongly hit with a pay cut can move forward with a lawsuit against the automaker and the United Auto Workers.

Nearly 30 workers at GM’s Lordstown factory argue that they were improperly classified as temporary employees after losing their jobs and then being rehired.

The union and company’s request to dismiss the lawsuit was turned down late last week. U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson rejected their claim that too much time had passed and that most of the workers had not gone through the union’s appeal process.

The workers at the Lordstown plant, where GM makes the Chevy Cruze, said in the lawsuit that they have been improperly classified as temporary employees since being hired in October 2006.

They lost their jobs in the spring of 2007 and were brought back six months later. The workers were briefly paid the same wage as permanent employees, but the lawsuit argues that they were reclassified as temporary workers in June 2008.

The workers said the change in classification cut their pay by more than 40 percent. They are seeking back pay of $3 million to $4 million. They also charge that the union didn’t stick up for them and refused to file a grievance. Both the union and the company have denied the allegations in court documents. A local union official at the Lordstown plant where GM makes the Chevy Cruze has said that the workers weren’t misrepresented.

Tom Mock, communications manager for the Lordstown plant, declined to comment Thursday.

A lawyer for the workers, Ken Myers, said it’s possible that the lawsuit could pave the way for workers at other auto plants who have been forced into two-tier wage systems. But many wouldn’t be able to sue because of time restrictions, he said.

Still, he has heard from other workers in a handful of states. “There are other potential lawsuits brewing,” Myers said.

The lawsuit filed by the Northeast Ohio workers in May 2011 said the Detroit-based General Motors Co. violated collective bargaining agreements reached between the company and the UAW in 2003 and 2007.