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Alonci v. International Union of Electronic

December 7, 2007

ROSETTA ALONCI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INTERNATIONAL UNION OF ELECTRONIC, ELECTRICAL, SALARIED, MACHINE & FURNITURE WORKERS, AFL-CIO, AND ITS LOCAL 509 (IUE-CWA, LOCAL 509), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This case involves a dispute concerning a collective bargaining agreement and is now before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss (Docket No. 22) the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' application is denied.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This case is joined with several others*fn1 in which Plaintiffs allege similar wrongful conduct on the part of Defendants. Plaintiff's counsel states in her memorandum of law that,

In total, the undersigned plaintiffs' counsel filed thirty (30) substantially, though not identical, Complaints against the Union. The plaintiffs fall into two categories: (1) those, such as Mr. Zagari, who were actively employed by Valeo and were members of the Union at the time of [sic] the September, 2005 ratification vote took place; and (2) Those, such as plaintiff Alonci, who separated their employment within a short time prior to the September, 2005 amendment pursuant to the terms of the May, 2002 amendment to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Pl.s' Mem. of Law (Docket No. 25) at 2.)

The Court will presume the following allegations from the amended complaint to be true for the purposes of this motion. Plaintiff Rosetta Alonci ("Alonci")*fn2 was employed by Valeo Corporation ("Valeo") as an assembly worker, commencing on or about November 28, 1988, and ending on or about June 6, 2005. During her employment with Valeo, she was a member of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine & Furniture Workers, AFL-CIO, and its Local 509 (IUE-CWA, Local 509) (collectively hereinafter referred to as "Union").

On or about July 20, 2000, the Union and the Valeo negotiated the terms of a collective bargaining agreement*fn3 which was ratified and deemed to go into effect on August 14, 2000. The Union told its members that the agreement was highly beneficial to them and that the agreement was to remain in effect through September 2008.

On December 14, 2001, Valeo filed for bankruptcy protection. Valeo sought concessions from the Union, which the Union described as "wage concessions on average of $3.00/hour, huge cuts in health care benefits with large out of pocket costs and severe, seniority threatening, work practice changes."*fn4 Subsequent to Valeo's bankruptcy filing, the Union reached what it termed a "concessionary agreement," which was ultimately ratified by its membership, based upon the Union's unanimous recommendation that the same be approved as an amendment to the July 2000 agreement.

Between January and March 2005, the Union informed Alonci and other employees that they should use voluntary attrition programs, because if enough people did not sign up, there would be involuntary terminations. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17.) A number of employees, including Alonci, were repeatedly told that the likelihood of layoff was high and that the "incentive program was the best thing going."*fn5

Alonci and many other employees confronted the Union and inquired as to whether there would be any further future incentives or any future bargaining by the Union. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) Alonci made this inquiry because there was some speculation that Valeo wanted more reductions than allowed for in the amended*fn6 agreement. Between January and March 2005, local Union officials Dave Roehrig and Mark Moochler acknowledged that the Union was negotiating for additional incentives, but that the only negotiations being undertaken were for employees who fell under the category known as "25 and out," and Alonci did not fall within this category of employees. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) Convinced by the Union that layoffs were imminent and that no further bargaining would occur in the future, Alonci decided to sign up for the voluntary attrition program. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.)

Upon signing up for the voluntary attrition program, Alonci was presented by Valeo with an agreement and release, indicating that she was relieving both Valeo and the Union from any liability and that she would not be permitted to sue Valeo or the Union. The compensation Alonci was to receive for signing the agreement and release amounted to nothing more than that to which she would have otherwise been entitled pursuant to the amended agreement*fn7 even if said release wasn't signed. As such, there was no consideration underlying the contract between Valeo and Plaintiff. That is,

[d]espite the fact that the contract*fn8 references the payments made under such agreement as payments to which the plaintiff would not be otherwise entitled, the fact of the matter is that the union contract entitled the plaintiff to the same benefits without the necessity of signing such a release. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) However, the Union represented to Alonci and other employees that in order to receive the benefits of the attrition program in the concession agreement, the release would have to be signed. (Am. Compl. ¶ 24.) Alonci, after reading the agreement and release, became concerned as to the following statement:

"If you choose to participate in this voluntary Program, you should understand that Valeo may adopt new or modified incentive or benefit provisions in the future that may be more or less advantageous to you than this Program. You should not expect or assume that any such future programs will be extended on a retroactive basis to anyone who participates in this voluntary Program."*fn9

(Am. Compl. ¶ 25.) Alonci heard "rampant rumors around [Valeo], many of which were fostered by the [U]nion, regarding the fact that Valeo was looking to get rid of more and more workers and was threatening to close down if more concessions were not made by the Union." (Am. Compl. ¶ 26.)

Out of a concern that, if she could not keep her job, she wanted to leave Valeo under the best possible attrition plan, Alonci went to the Union and asked why that clause was contained in the agreement and release, and asked whether some future improved attrition program was being considered, or was already being negotiated, or could be negotiated in the future. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.) The Union represented to plaintiff, and other employees who inquired, that it would not enter into any further negotiations to enhance the attrition program and "overtly stated to plaintiff and other employees that the attrition program being offered was 'as good as it would get' and that if they didn't take it, they would likely be laid off involuntarily." (Am. Compl. ¶ 30.)

The Union made these representations*fn10 despite the fact that they were aware that Valeo was threatening closure at the conclusion of the contract. Union officials were well aware that Valeo was taking the position that it likely could not afford to remain open beyond the contract end date in September 2008, which had been modified to July 31, 2008. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 31.) Valeo formally announced on July 27, 2005, that it was closing the plant in Rochester, New York, although the decision to close the plant had been "made informally some months prior."*fn11 (Am. Compl. ¶ 34.)

Furthermore, the Union was aware further negotiations were underway informally, or were to commence imminently, for the purpose of "effects bargaining," which would determine the impact that such closure would have on the remaining employees. Moreover, as stated in the amended complaint: "[i]t appears that the Union did not request that Valeo enter negotiations in regard to the decision to close the plant to determine if any concessions could be made that would keep the plant open." (Am. Compl. ¶ 32 & n.1.)

Up to the point of the official announcement of closing, Valeo had been successful in shrinking its Rochester work force from approximately 3,000 employees to approximately 510 employees as a result of the re-negotiation of contracts with the Union. (Am. Compl. ΒΆ 46.) Subsequent to the July 27, 2005 announcement of the plant closing, the Union and Valeo (aided by a consultant hired by Valeo) continued negotiations which resulted in an additional amendment to the collective bargaining agreement. That amendment was ratified on or about September 25, 2005, and included "effects bargaining," which would have resulted in a far greater financial benefit to Alonci in the form of a larger lump sum payment and/or pension benefits that were not available under the attrition program which encompassed her separation from Valeo. It was upon the media ...


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