Private at-will Iowa Pacific employees not shielded from termination for supporting unions, appeals panel says

October 24, 2015

Two men who supported an attempt to unionize an Illinois railroad company are not protected by the law from being fired for their support for organizing their coworkers, a state appeals panel has ruled.Website Insert Our Name Tells Our Story copy

On Oct. 20, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court issued an unpublished order rejecting an appeal of a Cook County Circuit Court decision against plaintiffs Jeff Weeks and Rich Sweiss who argued Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings illegally fired them for supporting the installation of a union in the company.

Created in 2001, Iowa Pacific operates railroads and rail-related businesses in nine states, including the Chicago Terminal Railroad, which connects to both the Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific railroads in Illinois, and seven other U.S. freight rail lines scattered throughout the country. Iowa Pacific also participates in the operation of tourism-related passenger rail services in some of those same locales, as well as in Peru and the United Kingdom.

In early 2013, employees at Iowa Pacific launched attempts to unionize the workforce. Weeks, who worked as an engineer, and Schweiss, a conductor, voted in favor of creating the union at Iowa Pacific, and, according to court documents, their support for the initiative was no secret at the company.

Iowa Pacific fired Schweiss the day of the vote in May 2013, and fired Weeks five months later. According to court documents, the company accused Schweiss of “disciplinary violations” connected to his “union support.” The company initially fired Weeks “without explanation,” but later asserted it had terminated his employment “for cause.”

Weeks and Schweiss together sued the company in Cook County Circuit Court in 2014, saying the company had improperly retaliated against them for their support of the union.

Cook County Circuit Judge Patrick J. Sherlock dismissed the case, siding with Iowa Pacific’s assertions the men had no legal basis to bring the case, as they had been employed as “at-will” employees and could be fired “for any reason or no reason so long as the termination did not violate a clear mandate of public policy.”

Read the full story from reporter Jonathan Bilyk in the Cook County Record by clicking here.

 

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