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Darlington Manufacturing, Part 3

The Legal Battle

Roger Milliken, age 90

In one of the most complicated and still-studied labor cases in history, the decisions went back and forth for 24 years until finally settled in 1980.

The Union came back at Milliken swiftly. The TWUA stated the action was “an outrageous example of industrial feudalism at its worst.” TWUA President, William Pollock, said it “flouts the spirit and letter of the law,” and further, there “has never been a more brutally clear example of an employer’s determination to prevent collective bargaining.”

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accused Deering Milliken of “interfering with, restraining and coercing its employees in the exercise of their rights as guaranteed under the Taft-Hartley Act.”

Within a month, unfair labor practice charges were filed against Deering Milliken, and four hearings by NLRB’s Trial Examiner Lloyd Buchanan spanned six years. Finally, in 1962, the NLRB ruled that mill was unlawfully closed due to collective bargaining efforts by the TWUA. It was decided that the company owed employees back pay.

However, Milliken appealed, and in a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, the decision was reversed. The Court said Deering Milliken was within its rights to close any or all of a business regardless of any motives against a union.

Two years later the Supreme Court vacated that ruling and sent the case back to the NLRB for further review regarding anti-union efforts by a company. While the Supreme Court allowed that a company has the right to close a business for any reason, it could not close a plant with the intention of dissuading other holdings against union activity. The papers stated, “ '…if motivated by a purpose to chill unionism in any of the remaining plants of the single employer, and if the employer may reasonably have foreseen that such closing will likely have that effect,' it would constitute a violation against the National Labor Relations Act.”

However, in 1966, Buchanan (by then Administrative Law Judge) declared there was not enough evidence to prove the mill was closed in an attempt to squelch union activities in other plants. Just under a year later, the Board reversed the Trial Examiner’s decision, saying the closure gave Milliken “a graphic example of the hazards of unionism.” One year after that, the Court of Appeals upheld the Board’s decision.

In 1969, the Supreme Court refused a request from Deering Milliken to review the case again.

In an interesting aside, in 1974, TWUA President Sol Stetin stated a re-election campaign contribution from Milliken to President Nixon was a conflict of interest, considering there was a case before the NLRB involving Milliken. The campaign’s acceptance of the contribution was “symptomatic of the current Watergate syndrome.” The union said the delays were “outrageous and unconscionable” and alleged they were at the prompting of the Nixon administration; however, the NLRB denied this allegation.

It wasn’t until 1974 that the NLRB issued a 4,000 page document with back pay specifications. The initial pretrial conference was in January 1975 and the case dragged on for another five years. After 400 days of trial and 37,000 pages of record, on December 30, 1980, a proposal for $5 million in back pay settlement was made.

The case took 24 years. Many of the employees were deceased, and the settlements were made to their heirs; plus, the government took their share in taxes, dropping a $15,000 payment (for instance) to $12,000. Some were bitter over this, but many others were happy to get what they got.

Coming next: The Racial Issues and Union Position

The images posted in this blog show some of the equipment being put up for auction. They show the vastness of the operation and reflect the enormity of the decision to close the plant.

Used by permission from the Darlington County Historical Commission

*Quotes from the Darlington News & Press and the Florence Morning News

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