Secretaries asked to demand company allow workers to attend Veterans Administration appointments without any negative impact on their employment status
COTE BLANCHE, La., Aug. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard sent letters to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki and Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta requesting their assistance in getting a decorated Iraq war veteran his job back and in demanding that North American Salt allow workers to attend Veterans Administration (VA) appointments without any negative impact on their employment status.
"While the USW is always proud when the U.S. government purchases goods produced by our union's members, I am writing to you to bring to your attention certain labor relations problems at North American Salt. I especially want to raise concern with the treatment by this company of a highly decorated veteran," USW International President Leo W. Gerard wrote.
"The USW also is concerned that North American Salt not set a pattern of disciplining workers based on their attendance at a VA appointment," he said.
North American Salt is a subsidiary of Compass Minerals International, Inc., a mining and materials company headquartered in Overland Park, Kan., with operations in the U.S., Canada and the UK. The company had sales of $1.1 billion in 2011. North American Salt operates an underground salt mine in Cote Blanche, La. USW Local 14425 represents about 100 production and maintenance workers at the mine.
Derrick Forestier is an Army Sergeant First Class who served 24 years in active duty until his retirement from the military in September 2011. He served in combat three times and was deployed five times. He received many awards for his service, including a Bronze Star.
When Forestier applied for a job at the Cote Blanche mine he told the company he would need time to go to his VA appointments on account of his combat veteran status.
In December mine management asked him if his VA appointments would be a problem. When he responded that he was a combat veteran and entitled by law to VA treatment, the company's representative told him, "We hire people to work."
Forestier informed the company in advance that he needed to go to the VA for an appointment on Jan. 10, 2012. When he returned from the appointment the operations manager terminated him.
"After reviewing documentation surrounding Mr. Forestier's termination, we think he was wrongly let go," Gerard said. "He sacrificed for our freedom and had the right to attend his VA appointments and this was the 'thanks' he got from North American Salt."
North American Salt also has health and safety problems at its Cote Blanche mine. From January 2009 through Aug. 8, 2012, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited the company with more than 400 health and safety violations at the Cote Blanche mine, with 126 of these violations determined to be "significant and substantial." The company currently is contesting 38 of these violations, 31 of which MSHA has deemed to be "significant and substantial."
In addition, from March 9, 2009 through June 27, 2012 there were 54 accidents reported at the mine, some of which involved worker injuries.
The USW and Local 14425 are engaged in contentious negotiations with North American Salt at the Cote Blanche mine, and the company's conduct has resulted in findings by two administrative law judges from the National Labor Relations Board of numerous violations of federal labor law by North American Salt.
The USW is the largest industrial union in North America and has 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. It represents workers employed in the metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, energy, government and service sectors.
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)