Lawsuit claims racketeering. Maremont goes to court against union striking its plant in Loudon County

April 10, 2007

Maremont Exhaust Products on Monday filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the union organizing a strike at its Loudon County plant, alleging that various acts legally amount to attempted murder.

The lawsuit claims several criminal acts were meant "to terrorize Maremont non-striking workers, permanent replacement employees, vendors, customers, and contractors to either cease working for Maremont or doing business with Maremont with the intent to force the Maremont plant to close."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, is against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 2545. Maremont workers represented by the union have been on strike at the Loudon County plant since Feb. 5.

A union official said the charges are not true.

"We are picketing peacefully," said Donna Tilley, the union's secretary and treasurer.

"I deal with these people everyday and they are good, reliable people," Tilley added.

The lawsuit alleges that in recent weeks there have been a number of incidents, "including shootings, vandalism, arson, a bomb threat, intimidation of replacement workers and their families and attempted murder."

Maremont, which is owned by International Muffler Co. of Schulenburg, Texas, produces automotive exhaust components, including heavy-duty mufflers and catalytic converters.

Its lawsuit alleges that "these acts constitute a pattern of racketeering activity in that they demonstrate continuity over a period of time and a relationship among the various acts."

It also states that various actions like shooting at residences technically "satisfy the elements of attempted murder."

The lawsuit seeks damages and attorney fees from the local and district union organizations, and that the court take any other action "in the wake of the violence that has been directed against the plant and its employees."

Since the strike began, there have been reports of windows on vehicles being broken in drive-by shootings, a fire set at an employee's house, an electrical transformer shot by a high-powered rifle, a bomb scare at the plant, tires being slashed and rocks thrown at individuals and vehicles.

The company tried to prosecute a man for rock-throwing, but a judge dismissed the charge for lack of evidence.

In other incidents, a picketing worker received minor injuries when the worker was hit by a vehicle driven by a security officer. And late last month, a Loudon County sheriff's deputy apologized for angrily confronting strikers on the picket line.

In a full-page newspaper ad last month, company owner Kenneth Banks offered a $10,000 reward per incident for information that will "help us put a stop to the violence, vandalism and harassment being leveled against innocent citizens as a result of a labor dispute at Maremont Exhaust Plant."

Union President Dale Smallen said striking workers are adhering to a court injunction issued in the labor standoff.

"We are abiding by the court-ordered injunction. We are certainly not terrifying anybody." That court order limits pickets to three people.

Smallen said he couldn't comment further because he has not seen the lawsuit.

Some 227 employees out of Maremont's 400-person work force went on strike in February over significant increases in employee costs for health insurance. Since that time, the company has permanently replaced more than 150 workers.