PITTSBURGH – In a case involving the longest illegal lockout in U.S. labor history, a federal administrative law judge has ordered the operating subsidiary of Kaiser Aluminum Corporation to “make whole” 3,000 steelworkers for any loss of earnings and other benefits during the company’s illegal 20-month lockout in 1999-2000, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) announced here May 15.

While the final amount would be reduced by interim earnings during the period of the lockout, the ruling by National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge Michael Stevenson would be the largest backpay award in the history of the NLRB – an estimated liability that “could likely total over $100 million,” according to a notice filed by the NLRB in federal Bankruptcy Court.

“By wielding the hammer of the lockout,” Judge Stevenson wrote in his 65-page decision, Kaiser “unlawfully `insisted’ that the Union accept a contract,” containing an illegal “blank-check” wage proposal and “malevolent” language that would have unlawfully changed the scope of the bargaining unit – actions that “constituted illegal coercion of the Union.”

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be one step closer to justice in this struggle, which has gone on far too long and caused needless misery to thousands of working families,” said USWA President Leo W. Gerard. “But the greatest tragedy is that this didn’t have to happen.”

“Kaiser’s ‘Rambo’ bargaining strategy – take no prisoners, obey no laws – was a mistake from Day One,” Gerard added. “If the company is really serious about restructuring and returning to profitability, it’s time for management to start obeying the law and work with us to build a stronger Kaiser Aluminum.”

Stevenson’s decision follows an exhaustive trial that began November 13, 2000, and concluded September 14, 2001.

“Throughout this long struggle, Kaiser Steelworkers earned a place of great distinction in the history of America’s labor movement,” said David Foster, Director of USWA District 11 and chair of the USWA/Kaiser Negotiating Committee. “Their solidarity and determination overcame the largest illegal lockout in U.S. history, forged landmark alliances with the environmental movement and spearheaded the labor protests against the WTO [World Trade Organization] in Seattle.”

Kaiser’s illegal 20-month lockout, which began January 14, 1999, is only part of a larger pattern of lawbreaking by the company, including persistent air quality violations, serious violations of workplace health and safety standards and impeding a federal investigation of the July 1999 explosion that substantially leveled its Gramercy, La., alumina refinery.