When Interstate Brands, Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2004, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to divine the innumerable twists and turns the company would follow in the years ahead. Still, even measured against the many remarkable developments, it is difficult not to shake one’s head in amazement over what transpired this week.
In a ruling at an Oct. 3 hearing, Judge Robert Drain said it was “crystal clear” from sworn testimony that leaders of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union had misled its members into believing a third party stood ready to acquire the company if workers voted down proposed changes to their collective bargaining agreement. As a result, the judge negated a ballot in which an extraordinary 92% of the bakery workers voted against the changes. It is impossible to know how the vote would have turned out had the members simply been presented the facts. The Teamsters vote approving the changes was extremely close. Similarly, it is tough to predict how the judge would have responded had the union voted “no” in a close vote without the misinformation.
What is clear, though, is that in painting an inaccurate picture of the situation, union leaders robbed workers of the chance to be heard. One may hope this unfortunate chapter will lead to greater realism and cooperation as the company and its workers look to pursue their common objective – a successful and lasting emergence from bankruptcy.