CHICAGO (CN) - Five school bus companies claim the Teamsters conspired to commit "multiple, repeated and continuous acts or threats involving extortion and/or attempted extortion ... in the guise of a labor organizing campaign."
Cook-Illinois Corp. and four of its subsidiaries sued Teamsters Local 777 and its president, James Glimco. The union local is based in Lyons, a Westside suburb of Chicago.
"Defendants are a labor organization and its president who have conspired among themselves to commit extortionate activities against plaintiffs in the guise of a labor organizing campaign," according to the federal complaint. "Defendants have also tortuously interfered with and defamed plaintiffs' businesses. As a result of defendants' wrongful conduct, plaintiffs' business has been diverted and its reputation damaged. Defendants' conduct must cease immediately, and plaintiffs have brought this action accordingly."
Plaintiffs Alpha School Bus Co., Richlee Vans, Illinois School Bus and Grand Prairie Transit provide transportation to Northern Illinois school districts. They are subsidiaries of Cook-Illinois Corp.
The plaintiffs say they comply with school district safety specifications and meet minimum wage compensation requirements. They say Local 777 and Glimco have been trying, unsuccessfully, to organize the bus companies' employees for five years.
In retaliation, the bus companies say, Glimco wrote a letter to Alpha employees falsely claiming that the company was stealing from them by shorting their paychecks.
They claim members of Local 777 showed up at a District 129 School Board meeting, falsely claiming that Richlee Vans were old, unsafe and lacked the required amount of bus aides.
And they say the Teamsters defamed Richlee and Aurora in a press release that stated: "'This company has collectively robbed its Aurora workers of $719,000 in wages it was required to pay under its contract'; 'Cook-Illinois has underpaid workers despite its contractual obligations,' and 'has forced them to drive dilapidated buses.'; and Drivers must ask for basic items that are guaranteed in the contract with District 129."
Acting as a "Cook Action Network," Local 777 published defamatory letters on its website, stating that Richlee and Grand Prairie underpaid its drivers, used unsafe buses, and threatened and intimidated its employees, the complaint states.
During a meeting with District 218 Superintendent John Byrne, Local 777 falsely accused Alpha and Illinois School Bus of double-billing the district and using unsafe buses and labor practices, the bus companies say.
In a "Cook Action Network" newsletter, Local 777 falsely claimed, among other things, that "Richlee Vans was underpaying its drivers 'in violation of the school contract with District 129 to the tune of $700,000,'" according to the complaint.
The newsletter also claimed, falsely, that "the District 129 School Board has pending legal action against Richlee Vans for its violations of the contract with District 129," the complaint states.
The bus companies seek punitive damages and more than $3 million in compensatory damages for RICO violations, tortious interference with contract and business defamation.
They are represented by Milton Castro and Harry Sangerman with Littler Mendelson.
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