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ELKHART -- The picket line is vacant and the union members are searching for answers as the lengthy and bitter strike against Vincent Bach has apparently come to an end.
Officials with the United Auto Workers Local 364, which represented the workers at the Bach plant, were notified Monday that union had been decertified. Union members were immediately pulled from the strike line in front of the plant on Industrial Parkway.
"It's over," said Robert Allen, Local 364 president. "We don't have any options."
The labor dispute marked its three-year anniversary April 1.
On July 30, the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., issued a ruling on several ballots held in contention following a decertification vote taken in November 2007, said Patricia Nachand, assistant regional director of the NLRB in Indianapolis. The board opened some of the contested ballots and determined a majority of the workers -- in the plant and on the strike line -- had voted against union representation.
Vincent Bach is a subsidiary of Conn-Selmer, headquartered in Elkhart. Steinway Musical Instruments, based in Massachusetts, is the parent company of Conn-Selmer.
In a statement, Steinway said it was "pleased with the NLRB's decision to certify the election results which indicate that a majority of our employees do not want the United Auto Workers union to continue representing the Bach facility."
Of the nearly 230 union members who went on strike in 2006, an estimated 70 have crossed the line and returned to their jobs inside the musical instrument factory in the intervening years. Still, Allen remained optimistic through the struggle that the union would win the decertification vote and the company would return to the bargaining table.
Tuesday morning, Allen was trying to organization a meeting between union members and UAW officials from Indianapolis or Detroit to find out what happens next. He wants the union to continue providing strike pay and benefits to the Local 364 members for a few more weeks.
Robert Hicks, the attorney representing Local 364, did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
However, Barbara Fick, associate professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, noted the union may be able to file an appeal with the Circuit Court in Washington, D.C. The UAW could contend the NLRB does not have the authority to issue rulings because only two of the five seats on the board are filled.
A ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court, which covers Indiana, found the two-member board can issue decisions but the Washington court has held the opposite opinion, Fick said. The split in the courts could give Local 364 the opportunity to argue their case against the decertification.
Waging such a court battle would be expensive, Fick said, but the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Another consideration, she said, is, at this point at least, the employees and strikers have spoken.
"If this is what the workers want," Fick said of the decertification, "it's hard to say it's a sad day. Personally, I think it's a sad event."
Pat Meyer, director of the Labor Advocates Workers Solution which has been supporting the striking Bach workers, sent a letter to UAW president Ron Gettelfinger on Tuesday, expressing concern over the decision to call the strikers off the picket line.
She also wrote "the strikers are in total disarray." They have questions about their health insurance and wonder if the UAW will formally notify them of the decertification.
Union member Stacy Curtis is worried and angry the UAW will abandon Local 364. She said the three years of strike pay she has received does not compensate for the 20 years she worked at Vincent Bach.
"The way it sounds to me," Curtis said of the UAW, "they're just going to drop us -- boom."