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Kennecott faces bias lawsuit

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More than 70 former Kennecott Utah Copper workers are expected to file discrimination charges with the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division today, alleging that they were laid off in retaliation for their union activities.

Kennecott announced on June 25 — two days after the company and union settled a long-running labor dispute with a new, six-year contract — that it planned to lay off 120 union workers. The company blamed the cuts on bleak market and industry conditions.

But union representatives claim the workers who received pink slips were targeted based on their activity with the union or were the victims of discrimination.

"We're estimating that there are 40 to 45 charges filed on age discrimination alone," said Wayne Holland, spokesman for the United

Steelworkers of America's 12th District. "Fifty-seven percent of those who were laid off were over the age of 40. Thirty seven people who were laid off had pending or previous works compensation issues or had taken some leave with the Family and Medical Leave Act."

Others had race or gender discrimination claims, Holland said. The union did not have an exact count of race or gender claims as of press time Tuesday. However, Holland said, "As a group, (the workers filing charges) represent a higher percentage by far of what the company employs as a whole in those respective categories."

Kennecott maintained that the action was neither retaliatory nor discriminatory.

"The union claimed that the company discriminated against union members by laying them off in retaliation for their support of the labor organization. The company believes those charges are without merit," said Kennecott spokesman Louie Cononelos.

"Kennecott did not discriminate against any protected class of employee. The company has an older, highly diversified work force, and the employees affected by the reduction in force reflect that diversity. The reduction in force did not violate the terms of the collective bargaining agreement or any applicable state or federal law."

The charges will be filed first with the state agency, which likely will request mediation between the former employees and Kennecott. If that fails, the cases will be transferred to state investigators, who will look into the claims and gather testimony and evidence for the cases' resolution, said Sherrie Hayashi, director of the anti-discrimination division.

Charges filed in mid-July with the National Labor Relations Board have been referred back to the parties' grievance and arbitration procedure, which was outlined in the collective bargaining agreement. That process is ongoing, Cononelos said.

The state charges are expected to be filed at 1 p.m. today, followed by a 3:30 p.m. rally at Popperton Park (located at Virginia Street and Popperton Way).

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com