In a move to call attention to its concern for fair treatment of union workers at Omni Duct Systems, Anaheim, Calif., the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA) recently sent a letter to Omni Duct's customers who are HVAC contractors in California and surrounding states. The purpose of the letter was to encourage a boycott of Omni Duct products.

The letter, signed by SMWIA general president Michael Sullivan, stated that union workers at Omni Duct "are paid considerably less than the standards generally prevailing in California for SMWIA members engaged in production."

Sullivan went on to state: "We are therefore asking all HVAC contractors in Omni Duct's market area to cease purchasing any material from this company."

Robert Brumleu, president of Omni Duct, sent out a letter to his customers in response to the SMWIA's actions. "Don't give in to these phony scare tactics," he advised in the letter.

"Federal labor law is very clear. The union can't use coercive tactics to keep you from doing business with Omni Duct."

The News contacted Sullivan and Brumleu and asked them to comment on their positions.

"It is commonplace for a union in a labor dispute with an employer to ask customers not to do business with the employer," Sullivan said.

"That is all we did in the case of Omni Duct. In fact, the letters we sent explain precisely the nature of the dispute. The only thing that might be regarded as unusual about our letter is that we sent it to so many contractors. But that seems like a smart thing for us to do: communicate with everyone who is or might be a customer of the employer in the dispute.

"Since the letters were sent, Omni Duct has agreed to a contract with our Local 170. That does not settle our dispute, however. Omni Duct still uses unrepresented workers to make its building trades or yellow label products. Therefore, we will continue to ask its customers and potential future customers to not buy its products and to continue our communications to and about those contractors who are uncooperative."

Brumleu offered Omni Duct's position. "This is unprecedented," he said. "I have not seen these tactics used before. They are going after all HVAC contractors in California, Arizona, and Nevada - over 15,000 letters.

"Our contractor customers are completely outraged that the union could even think to tell the non-union contractors where to buy their products. I think this is having a backlash against the union.

"I have a contract with the sheet metal workers, and they signed it with the wage rate included. I am actually paying my members more than what the contract calls for. The union and nonunion workers in my company all get a complete benefit package at no cost to them. We even buy back-to-school packages for the children of all employees."

Brumleu said Omni Duct has a union contract for its "yellow label" products, which are made by its production workers, but the company does not have a contract with construction workers on the jobsite making the "blue label" products. Brumleu feels that the yellow and blue label work should fall under the same umbrella.

"I would use blue label workers to do the same work, but the union won't give me a contract for that product," he said.

For the complete text of the Sullivan and Brumleu letters, see the two sidebars below.

Sidebar: Michael J. Sullivan Letter

[The following letter, dated April 14, 2004, was signed by Michael J. Sullivan, general president of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA).]

Dear HVAC Contractor:

You may be purchasing materials from Omni Duct, a manufacturer located in Anaheim and Sacramento, California. While Omni Duct has a collective bargaining agreement with one of our local unions for part of its production, the majority is performed by workers who are not covered by an agreement with the SMWIA. Even those with a union contract are paid considerably less than the standards generally prevailing in California for SMWIA members engaged in production.

We are therefore asking all HVAC contractors in Omni Duct's market area to cease purchasing any material from this company. We will appreciate the cooperation of your company. We have included a card with this letter that we ask you to fill out. The card provides you with the opportunity to inform us about your intentions concerning the purchase of materials from Omni Duct. If we do not receive a card back from you, your company will be placed on our list of contractors needing further attention. The further attention will take the form of investigation into the extent of your use of Omni Duct materials, communications with your employees, communications with your customers, and ultimately, perhaps requests to your customers to stop doing business with you. Although these activities are protected by our right of free speech, we would prefer not to have to resort to them, but we must correct the Omni Duct problem.

If you have any questions, please contact Michael G. Small, Director of Organizing at 202-662-0850.

Sincerely yours,
Michael J. Sullivan
General President

Sidebar: Robert Brumleu Letter

[The following letter, dated April 12, 2004, was signed by Robert Brumleu, president of Omni Duct Systems.]

To Our Customers:

Since 1982, our mission here at Omni Duct Systems has been to support HVAC contractors' growth and profitability. We have been successful in helping many open shop contractors grow into formidable companies that are competing effectively with the larger, signatory contractors.

The Sheet Metal Workers Union is currently trying to revive a dispute that it lost ten years ago. It lost because it was unwilling to recognize the fact that Omni Duct does not do installation work, only manufactures, and should not have been subjected to an installation contract.

The union's latest tactic was to send letters to our customers in an effort to scare them into no longer doing business with us. You may have received one. Don't give in to these phony scare tactics. Federal labor law is very clear. The union can't use coercive tactics to keep you from doing business with Omni Duct. It it tries, we will immediately file appropriate legal actions with the National Labor Relations Board and federal courts. If you are not a signatory contractor, the union cannot picket, or take any other coercive action against you to stop you from doing business with us. If you are a signatory contractor, the Sheet Metal Workers Union cannot take any action against you for purchasing stock items from us.

You certainly are under no obligation to return the so-called "Omni Duct Response Card." and should not do so. If you do respond, you will identify yourself as a target for more pressure tactics and possible organizing activities among your workers. The union likes "soft" targets, but they don't do well when employers exercise their lawful rights under the National Labor Relations Act as we have. Please contact us immediately if you have any further contacts from the union. My phone number is (714) 385-8900. If I am not available, talk to Chris Short at (714) 385-5217.

You can be assured that Omni Duct will continue to provide you with first class products and service at the competitive prices that have helped HVAC contractors to compete.

Now is a time when non-signatory HVAC contractors must rally together, reject the union's scare tactics and send a message that they won't be intimidated.

Thank you for your support.

Robert Brumleu

Publication date: 06/07/2004