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Workers Wait and Wait for the NLRB to Enforce the Law
April 22, 2004

Verna Bader has been waiting nearly 12 years for justice to be served. In 1992, she and five other machinists in her department were fired after they voted to form a union at Taylor Machine Products. At age 72, Verna refuses to give up on receiving the almost $100,000 that the company owes her for her illegal termination. But after years of searching for work, testifying in court, and coping with huge medical bills, Verna is losing faith in the legal system designed to protect her.

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Former Taylor employees fired (L-R): Front row: Rose Mary Smith, Josephine Mallia, Ruth Cecil. Back row: Flora Russell, Bonnie Warren, Verna Bader

UPDATE:  September 22, 2004—Verna's 12-Year-Wait For Justice Ends

The fired Taylor Machine Products workers can finally breathe a sigh of relief.  Last week, after 12 long years, Verna and the six other workers who were illegally fired received the first installments of their backpay awards.   While there is much reason to celebrate, this is a bittersweet victory for Verna and her former coworkers.  The 12-year-delay demonstrates a major failure in our labor law system.  And in spite of their brave efforts, there is no union at their former workplace.

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In 1989, Verna began work as a machine operator for Taylor Machine Products, a Detroit-based company that manufactures parts for the auto industry.  In 1991, she joined her co-workers in their attempts to form a union in order to win better wages and improve health and safety on the job.  She was earning only $5 an hour, and machinists with more seniority were barely making over $6 an hour.  As a widow, Verna was the sole breadwinner for her father, her dying sister, and her sister’s children, and desperately needed to earn more money. 

Occupational safety was a pressing concern of Verna’s, and one not adequately addressed by Taylor.  Verna believed Taylor employees should vote to form a union to address health and safety issues. Soon after the workers began organizing with the Machinists union—the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers—an inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visited the plant.  The inspector immediately shut down a machine Verna was working on that had exposed wires, which threatened to electrocute her.  Another machine—nicknamed ‘The Monster’—required repetitive, strenuous movements that caused Verna such severe back pain, she missed days of work. 

Unfortunately for Verna and her co-workers in her all-women’s department, organizing their co-workers with the Machinists marked only the beginning of a battle that would span two decades.  Once Verna and other union supporters were identified, harassment by the foreman and anti-union co-workers plagued their final months at the company.  Verna described instances where the foreman would stand behind her machine for hours, watching her every move.  She recalled him threatening her, “‘If you do get a union in here, you’re gonna find out that you aren’t gonna have a job, because it’s by the grace of me that you’re here.’”  When two anti-union Taylor employees repeatedly threw metal parts at the glass window of the lunchroom where she and the other pro-union workers sat, the managers ignored their complaints.  After Taylor employees voted to form a union on March 25, 1992, the escalating harassment became unbearable for Verna: “There’s days that I literally went out of there crying.”

On August 6, 1992, Taylor shut down the entire department where the pro-union women worked.  The workers were told to get their belongings and to not come back.  That night, Taylor shipped their machines to Kentucky, where according to a letter provided to the employees, the company could better fill last-minute orders in the South.  In response, Verna and her co-workers, with the assistance of the Machinists, filed unfair labor practice charges against Taylor with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that enforces provisions of U.S. labor law. 

Three years later, in 1995, the NLRB ruled that Taylor had discriminatorily terminated the workers based on their union support, and ordered that the company offer to reinstate the six women, along with another pro-union worker fired, and to compensate them with backpay and interest.**  However, the company appealed the ruling, and justice for the workers was delayed through multiple court filings, hearings and decisions for almost another 8 years.  Finally, in March of 2003, the NLRB issued an order for the company to “make whole” the former employees with backpay and interest owed.  But as of April 2004, over a year after the order was issued, the company still refuses to pay the almost $380,000 owed to the workers to redress the wrongful terminations.   

Verna is not deterred by the delay.  During the decade-long legal process, she and Bonnie Warren, another woman fired by Taylor, wrote many letters to judges and elected officials, pleading for a resolution to their case.  Even today, Verna vows to keep fighting and serving as a source of support for others.  One of the women waiting for her backpay is almost 82 years old.  When she was very sick last year, Verna told her, “Don’t you think of dying yet…you don’t even think of it—you’re going to get well.”  She worries about another friend of hers who was fired, who could be headed for bankruptcy if she doesn’t receive her back pay. 

Despite remaining positive about one day receiving her money, Verna still recognizes that the law has failed her.  She feels that if the roles were reversed—if she owed the owner of Taylor money—the outcome would be different: “If [the legal system] were after me, if they were after my house—I would’ve been out on the street.  And I don’t understand how someone can say ‘I’m not gonna pay’…if it was me that owed him, I wouldn’t have a chance to say ‘I’m not gonna pay.’”

For all of their efforts to organize Taylor Machine Products, the workers never won a union contract.  While the company eliminated much of the union support by closing down the women’s division, the workers who remained still fought for several years to win a collective bargaining agreement to address workplace issues.  Despite a 1995 order by the NLRB for Taylor to cease and desist from refusing to bargain with the Machinists, the company never agreed to a union contract. There are no current efforts by the Machinists to negotiate with the company.   

Want More Info?

  • Click here to read how the workers at Taylor Machine Products are not alone - our fact sheet on delays in labor law. 
  • Click here to read our fact sheet on how unions make workplaces safer.
**A worker illegally fired for supporting a union is entitled to reinstatement and back pay.  But it can take years before reinstatement is offered and back pay is offset by “interim” earnings, the income an employee waiting for an NLRB decision is required to “diligently” pursue.