25 SORRENTO WORKERS HIT UNITE WITH SUIT
LOS ANGELES — Twenty-five employees of Sorrento Coats Inc., one of the last union contractors here that specializes in blazers, have filed a law suit against UNITE, charging the union with breach of fair representation.
The suit also charges the union with intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional interference with contractual relations and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.
The suit was filed on Sept. 30 in U.S. District Court here. Sorrento has been attempting to decertify from UNITE over the past six months.
“The heart of the complaint is that UNITE is still the bargaining unit for Sorrento, which means that it has a fiduciary duty to act in the employees’ interests, but it isn’t,” said Linda S. Klibanow, an attorney representing the employees. Instead, she said, UNITE had work pulled out of Sorrento and “the employees do not have an avenue of recourse.”
The suit does not specify damages; Klibanow said it seeks to reimburse the employees who have taken a significant decrease in wages since UNITE stopped work from going to Sorrento.
The action stems from a dispute with UNITE that has developed over several months.
In May employees of Sorrento signed an informal letter to decertify after seven years of union membership. Sorrento management said at the time that 42 of its 55 employees have voted to leave the union.
UNITE countered by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, charging Sorrento with refusal to bargain.
Sorrento is an exclusive contractor for coat firm Dumas Inc., which uses the label M. Shapiro; it has been in business for 59 years.
Ron Shapiro, president of Dumas, told WWD in June that he pulled his work out of Sorrento in late May because UNITE demanded he cease doing business there due to the unfair labor practices complaint.
The 25 employees claim in the suit that UNITE acted in bad faith by “requiring that Shapiro stop conducting business with Sorrento, even though such a response by Shapiro would result in loss of employment for the very employees that UNITE allegedly represents.”
It also alleges that UNITE discriminated against the employees by forcing Shapiro to boycott Sorrento, even though Shapiro works with other nonunion contractors, and causing them to lose work in addition to terminating their health care benefits.
The suit further charges that UNITE officials threatened Sorrento employees at home, claiming that they would never have work if they didn’t support the union.
Steve Nutter, regional director of UNITE, said that he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit and had no comment by press time.