Ford Union Leader Says His Job Is Under Threat

Itar-TassFord workers picketing the carmaker's plant in St. Petersburg on Nov. 20. One sign says, "Our decision Is to Strike!"
Alexei Etmanov, leader of a 1,500-member union at Ford's St. Petersburg plant, said Thursday that company management was seeking to dismiss him and an associate after a recent strike.

The U.S. carmaker denied the claim.

"Late last year, the trade union received a notice that my deputy, Vladimir Lesika, and I would be dismissed for making repeated statements that crossed the official line," Etmanov said by telephone.

He said that among the statements, he and Lesika were accused of making disparaging comments about the quality of cars produced during the strike. He told reporters that new cars would not pass the company's quality tests because all the technicians in that department were on strike.

Etmanov also said Thursday that Ford had issued around 40 reprimands to workers who participated in the four-week strike.

He said he and the other workers were under fire for going on strike for higher pay, not for job performance.

"We are going to contest those actions in a law court soon," he said.

Ford denied Etmanov's account and said it had not issued any orders to dismiss him.

"There is no official notification, no papers, no documents served on either Etmanov or his deputy purporting to sack them," Ford spokeswoman Yekaterina Kulinenko said.

Anna Smolchenko / MT

"There is no evidence whatsoever to show that the company wanted to fire these two union leaders," Kulinenko said.

A labor lawyer expressed disbelief that Ford would take the actions claimed by Etmanov.

"Dismissing a worker for just making uncomplimentary statements about his company's product is not legally permissible under Russian law," said Yevgeny Reyzman, a labor lawyer with Baker & McKenzie, which is not involved in the current dispute.

"If a plant's administrators decide to fire somebody, they discuss it with lawyers and apply only legitimate reasons, always trying to avoid high-profile scandal," he said.

Ford workers went on an indefinite strike Nov. 20, demanding a 30 percent wage increase.

The plant only resumed full, three-shift production on Dec. 17. The plant had been running on two shifts since Dec. 10.

Etmanov said after the protracted strike action that he had elicited a promise from management not to discipline or discriminate against workers due to their participation in the strike. Negotiations over a new labor contract package are to begin next month, he said.