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You Can’t Be Serious, ConAgra Tells Union

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - ConAgra sued a labor union after an arbitrator reinstated a fired worker who "regularly" left work during his shift for up to 2 hours at a time, and kept a "lair" in a company building, stocked with "pornographic magazines and videos, women's panties, photographs of himself with half-dressed women, condoms, a pillow and a refrigerator."

ConAgra claims it had good reason to fire the employee, James Cheek, including falsifying records and "acting disorderly, immorally or indecently," as specified in its collective bargaining agreement.

The union filed a grievance three days after Cheek was fired, claiming ConAgra lacked just cause to fire him.

ConAgra and the union - the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union Local Union No. 7198 - referred the firing to an arbitrator, as called for in the collective bargaining agreement.

The arbitrator, ConAgra says, "found that grievant 'was stealing time,'" and "'had to know that he was not allowed to leave the plant for two hours in the middle of his shift.'"

But the arbitrator cited ConAgra's "lax supervision" as a "mitigating factor," added "'that there wasn't any complaint about the quality of [Grievant's] work,'" and found the pornography stash "'not really relevant,'" according to the complaint. (Brackets in complaint.)

The arbitrator found "just cause for some discipline," but reduced it to "a long suspension."

ConAgra says, Oh, please, or words to that effect.

It claims the arbitrator exceeded his or her jurisdiction, ignored evidence, and that the decision "lacks fundamental rationality." It wants the arbitrator's decision vacated and it wants Cheek fired.

It is represented in Federal Court by Hillary Klein of Chattanooga.

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