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Suit against RRAD contractor is dropped

Suit against RRAD contractor is dropped

Union, company to sort out spike in insurance premium costs through arbitration

February 10th, 2019 by Lynn LaRowe in Texarkana News

A federal lawsuit filed by a labor union against a private contractor that employs a large number of people performing work at Red River Army Depot near Texarkana is being dismissed per an agreement between the two sides.

The suit, filed on behalf of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers and Local Lodge 1243 against VSE Corporation earlier this month, stems from an alleged 25 percent increase in health insurance premiums. The union argued in its complaint that a CBA (collective bargaining agreement) between the union and VSE provides for arbitration in which VSE refused to engage.

Local 1243 represents VSE employees working at RRAD in full and part-time positions as automotive workers, heavy equipment operators, inspectors, clerks, helpers, machinists, welders, mechanics, painters, supply technicians, PC clerks and environmental, electrical and engineering technicians.

The complaint alleges that VSE is in violation of a CBA which became effective Jan. 1, 2017, and remains in force until May, 15, 2020. The CBA governs the wages, work hours and other terms and conditions of employees.

At issue is a 25 percent increase in health insurance premiums proposed by VSE in October 2017 which became effective Jan. 1, 2018. The complaint alleges the increase "inflicted a severe hardship on many represented employees and their families."

According to the complaint, the union filed a grievance Dec. 19, 2017, asserting that VSE had breached the CBA by unilaterally increasing the premium rates. VSE allegedly denied the grievance, claiming that language in the CBA allowed the company to impose increases when they were imposed by the insurance carrier.

A hearing between the union and VSE failed to result in a resolution of the grievance and, according to the complaint, VSE issued a second response denying the grievance in June 2018. The union appealed and in July 2018, a third denial from VSE occurred.

The union filed notice of its intent to arbitrate the grievance Sept. 18, 2018. The arbitration process would bring a third party into the discussion whose decision would be final and binding to both sides. But in an email received from a VSE representative to the union the same date, VSE allegedly refused to arbitrate claiming the health insurance issue is under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board

A notice filed Thursday seeks to dismiss the suit with the stipulation that the issue of health insurance premium costs is subject to arbitration under the CBA. The stipulation includes an agreement that both sides will pay their own attorney fees and court costs and that arbitration will occur "with all deliberate speed."

The motion seeks dismissal of the case without prejudice, meaning the union is free to refile its claim if it believes VSE fails to adhere to the agreement to arbitrate. The stipulation of dismissal was filed by the union's lawyer, Rod Tanner of Fort Worth, and VSE's lawyer, Wendy Wilkins of Dallas.

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