Whistle Blower Argues Firing Appeal For Second Time
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former trucker Kenneth Prill returned for a second time to a federal appeals court Friday seeking redress for his firing eight years ago after refusing to drive an unsafe rig.
The case could decide the extent to which an individual worker is protected from dismissal for protesting unsafe conditions onthe job.
Under the National Labor Relation Board’s interpretation of the law, such protection is provided to union members acting under a provision of their contract or to workers who act together to protest such conditions.
In 1979, Prill was driving a truck through Tennessee for Meyers Industries Inc. of Tecumseh, Mich., when the rig jacknifed.
Prill, who did not belong to a union, refused to drive the vehicle further with defective trailer brakes and arranged for an inspection by state authorities.
His firing led to the complex labor practices complaint which was rejected by the NLRB in 1984, sent back to the board on appeal in 1985, and again rejected by the NLRB in 1986.
Oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit focused on two legal tests the NLRB asserted were needed under the National Labor Relations Act to protect a worker who, like Prill, blew the whistle on unsafe conditions.
The worker must be acting in concert with other employees, and he must be acting for the mutual aid and protection of the employees, said Howard Perlstein, NRLB attorney.
Although Prill overheard a fellow worker say he wouldn’t drive the rig because of bad brakes, ″rather than trying to induce any group action ... he turned his back and walked away,″ Perlstein said.
″There really can be no doubt that the principal thrust of the act is group action,″ Perlstein said.
Prill’s attorney, Ellis Boal, said Prill had discussed the matter with his fellow workers.
The attorney argued the requirements in the act appeared in preceding laws clearly designed to protect individual workers, and Congress intended the legislation to extend such protection to collective action, such as by a union.
″I think the board must recognize that what it is doing will chill other workers,″ discouraging them from telling management of unsafe conditions, Boal said.
Prill, 32, now sells recreational-vehicle parts in Tecumseh, Mich.