Lamb Weston

ConAgra Food’s Lamb Weston potato-processing plant is seen on Feb. 11, 2015, in Twin Falls.

TIMES-NEWS FILE

TWIN FALLS — A labor union has rejected a settlement with Lamb Weston in a case before the National Labor Relations Board.

Teamsters Local 483 in Boise has claimed the company violated the National Labor Relations Act and interfered with employees’ rights when supervisors pulled employees into their offices and questioned them about union support. All this reportedly took place prior to a union election this summer.

Lamb Weston says the allegations have no merit. An administrative law judge had been scheduled to hear the case in January, but the hearing has been postponed. A new date may be set, depending on what happens with the settlement.

Teamsters Local 483 Director of Representation Darel Hardenbrook said the union rejected the settlement because of a non-admission clause that states the company doesn’t admit to doing anything wrong.

“While we understand that’s typical of entities in these settlement agreements, that’s in our opinion denying justice to the parties,” Hardenbrook said.

In the settlement, Lamb Weston agreed to post a notice for employees that stated it it wouldn’t do anything preventing them from exercising their rights to organize. It also said the company would not ask about employee support for unions, or watch employees to find out about their activities.

Hardenbrook also believes the company has been allowed to tiptoe around the law by hiring an anti-union firm to intimidate employees and instruct supervisors.

“We are trying to force an even playing field,” he said.

Lamb Weston has said it was well within its rights to hire the firm to educate employees about the company’s stance. Employees voted against being represented by a union in July.

Having denied the settlement offer, the union now waits for the regional director of the NLRB, Paula Sawyer, to make the next move. Sawyer could override the union, and the settlement would move forward between the NLRB and Lamb Weston.

Meanwhile, the union has approached Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs about pursuing criminal charges. According to Title 44, Chapter 20 of Idaho statutes, “It shall be the duty of the prosecuting attorney of each county and of the attorney general of this state, to investigate complaints of violation or threatened violations of this chapter and to prosecute all persons violating any of its provisions.” Title 44 addresses labor and the right to work.

Hardenbrook said Loebs refused to investigate these charges and violated the law. But Loebs told the Times-News he did not believe there was enough evidence to pursue criminal charges, and the interpretation of his duty of investigation doesn’t mean he investigates like a detective.

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“I was presented with some information,” Loebs said. “I looked at the information I was presented with. It was insufficient for a crime to be prosecuted with.”

Findings by the NLRB, he said, do not apply to criminal law.

The proper protocol to get his office to prosecute a case would be to turn over information to police, who would investigate, compile evidence and determine if it needed to be brought forward to the prosecuting attorney’s office, Loebs said.

The attorney general’s office also refused to investigate, Hardenbrook said. A spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he couldn’t immediately comment.

Editor's Note: The first part of this story was updated Dec. 20 to clarify the settlement was not proposed by Lamb Weston.

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