WASHINGTON - A neutral arbitrator ordered the presidents of the Sheet Metal Workers and the United Transportation Union to resume talks on implementing the planned merger of the two unions, by Oct. 25.
Arbitrator Michael Gottesman, a law professor, also told the two union presidents "or their designees" to keep meeting "on an expedited basis for as long as necessary" to work out all details, as the unions' merger agreement specifies.
The SMWIA welcomed the decision; UTU published it without comment. But in August, its convention unanimously opposed the merger and re-elected Mike Futhey, a merger foe, as president.
"While there are a couple of legal hurdles left to overcome, the decision clearly affirms that the merger agreement was executed properly," wrote Richard McClees, chief of staff for SMWIA President Joseph Nigro. "We hope by this decision we are now in the final stretch of bringing our two unions together and look forward to completing the merger process."
The merger, to create the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, was first stalled by a UTU lawsuit. In response, federal judge John Bates ordered binding arbitration. Gottesman ruled the merger agreement is enforceable.
"The merger agreement and SMART constitution were adopted by both parties in accordance with the procedures specified in Article II of the merger agreement," Gottesman added. "UTU has been in continuous breach of the merger agreement from Jan. 1, 2008 to date," but "the parties shall implement the merger pursuant to the terms that were specified" in it, except that most dates were pushed back three years.
SMWIA represents 150,000 workers. UTU says it has 125,000 "active and retired" members. AFL-CIO data show 153,000-plus combined, 61 percent of them from the SMWIA.