The United Auto Workers union filed a federal lawsuit against auto supplier ZF Boge, stating the company's decision to close its Paris, Ill., manufacturing plant is a breach of contract.
"We had a very straightforward agreement with the company," said Gary Abernathy, Local 2343 bargaining chairman. "If they agreed to keep our plant open, we would modify our contract. We kept our end of the bargain – and now they're closing our plant anyway. That's a breach of contract. We're suing to enforce our agreement, plain and simple."
In May 2007 during the term of an existing collective bargaining agreement, ZF Boge management informed the UAW that it was planning to consolidate the Paris facility and a nonunion plant in Hebron, Ky.
Only one of the two facilities would remain open, according to company officials, who requested modifications in the UAW contract. In a letter to UAW members at the Paris plant dated May 15, 2007, plant manager Marc Vonderlage stated: "No changes that we negotiated with your elected representatives for approval by Union members will take effect unless this plant is chosen to stay open."
In June 2007, Local 2343 members ratified an agreement which froze their pension plan and reduced working hours. ZF Boge management then advised the union that the Paris facility would remain open and implemented the contractual changes. In November 2007, some equipment and work was transferred from the company's Hebron, Ky., plant to the Paris facility.
In April 2008, ZF Boge management reversed course, and announced that the Paris facility would be closed, and the Hebron plant would stay open instead.
"We know that times are tough in the auto industry," said Abernathy. "That's why we agreed, mid-contract, to changes that would save the company millions of dollars. In exchange, they promised to keep our plant open. ZF Boge got exactly what they asked for from us – but they did not live up to the written agreement they signed. That's why we're in court."
"We're going to hold ZF Boge accountable," said Dennis Williams, director of UAW Region 4, which includes Illinois. "We're not going to let them rip up a contract that was negotiated in good faith. Our members made sacrifices to help this company; now the company has to live up to the commitments it made to our members and their families."
The lawsuit, filed in the Urbana Division of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, calls for the Paris plant to remain open, and for workers to be made whole for the damages they suffered as a result of ZF Boge's violation of the signed labor agreement.