Niles City Council should repeal its ordinance against replacement workers since it will soon result in wasting taxpayer money either trying to enforce it or trying to defend it in court.
Lawyers for Phillips Manufacturing submitted a written plea of not guilty to two criminal counts of using strike breakers in its contract dispute with United Steelworkers Local 4564-02. The company that manufactures steel parts used with plasterboard in the construction industry is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 7 in Niles Municipal Court.
About 44 union members have been on strike since Sept. 13 over what they say are unfair wages, benefits and working conditions. They had been working without a contract since Aug. 9. City Prosecutor Terry Swauger on Sept. 28 filed a criminal complaint against the company, claiming it broke a city ordinance that prohibits the hiring of professional strikebreakers.
The ordinance prohibits companies and their agents to recruit or employ people to jobs held by people involved in a labor dispute. It also makes it illegal for people to repeatedly offer themselves to replace people involved in a labor dispute.
Anyone convicted of breaking the misdemeanor offense may be punished by a fine not less than $500 or be imprisoned for no more than 6 months.
Swauger had little choice but to do his job and file charges after Councilman Dan Wilkerson raised the issue. Wilkerson openly supports the striking workers at the risk of alienating a company that employs city residents and pays city income taxes.
There are two possible legal scenarios. Since Phillips pleaded innocent, the burden of proof is now on the city to prove the company violated the ordinance. That could cause a considerable cash outlay to pay city investigators and lawyers.
Another possible outcome is Phillips challenging the constitutionality of such an overbearing ordinance. That, too, will result in a considerable investment of time and money to defend the ordinance, especially since these types of lawsuits wind their way through the appeals process and drag on for years.
Probably the only reason the ordinance still exists in the first place is because nobody has challenged it. It's difficult to know what the thought process was nearly 50 years ago when the ordinance was first passed. Most likely, in a steel town like Niles, it was a politically popular act for elected officials who quite probably knew it was ultimately indefensible.
Niles and other communities that have such laws on the books should repeal these ordinances before needlessly wasting taxpayer money.