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Court: Ill. Plant Didn't Violate Deal By Closing

Mon, 08/22/2011 - 5:31am
Michael Tarm, Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) -- An automotive parts manufacturer did not violate a collective bargaining agreement by closing its plant in central Illinois and moving production to its non-unionized factory in Kentucky, a federal appellate court ruled Friday.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed a lower court ruling that ZF Boge Elastmetall never made commitments to the United Auto Workers that it would keep open its plant in Paris, a town about 150 miles east of Springfield near the Indiana border.

Shortly after the Paris workers went on strike in 2008, ZF Boge said it was shutting the factory and moving all operations to an existing plant in Hebron, Ky. The Paris facility, which had been one of the largest employers in the community of 9,000 residents, was closed in 2009.

ZF Boge, which manufactures rubber and metal brushing for use in the automotive industry, began in 2007 to consider leaving just one of its two plants open. To help persuade the company to retain the Paris plant, unionized workers ratified a deal that reduced working hours and froze pension plans.

ZF Boge initially announced that the Paris plant would remain open and the one in Hebron would be shuttered, but the company reversed that decision -- after the workers ended the strike and returned to work, according to the ruling.

Messages left by The Associated Press on Friday at UAW headquarters in Detroit and at the ZF Boge's office in Hebron, Ky., were not returned.

In its initial lawsuit, the union had sought damages and asked the court to order ZF Boge to keep the Parisplant open.

The Local 2343 that represented the roughly 150 UAW workers at the Paris plant had insisted that its members had not dug in their heels in negotiations.

"We're not the villains in this case," Willie Runyan, a Local 2343 leader at the time, told the Paris Beacon News. "We're not radical or militant, and we weren't dictating. We need industry in Paris, Illinois. We wanted to get a contract both sides could live with and keep the plant here."

Friday's ruling from the Chicago-based appellate court addressed only the narrow issue of ZF Boge's obligations under its agreement with the union and did not touch on wider questions of the rights of companies to pick up and move elsewhere to save costs.

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