During NLRB hearings to establish ground rules for the upcoming union election at PG&E, company attorney Joseph St. Sure argued that 1,675 IBEW workers in 51 classifications should be excluded from the bargaining unit. He focused on watch engineers, claiming they were supervisors not eligible for union membership.
IBEW attorney Mathew Tobriner, later a California Supreme Court justice, called on two watch engineers to give expert testimony: union leaders Ron Weakley and Don Hardie. If St. Sure won the argument, Weakley and Hardie themselves would be ineligible for union membership.
St. Sure badgered Hardie to say he was a supervisor, and tried to trap him into saying things for which he could be fired. Tobriner objected repeatedly to the NLRB hearing officer. Eventually it began to feel like a junkyard fight, with the two attorneys going after each other directly.
“I am entitled to address the hearing officer without interruption from you,” St. Sure scolded Tobriner.
“Mr. St. Sure is getting mad,” Tobriner taunted.
“I suggest you pay attention,” St. Sure sneered. Tobriner responded:
“I suggest you use polite language, Mr. St. Sure. It wouldn’t hurt you.”
“This is unusually hot weather for San Francisco,” the hearing officer remarked, finally getting a word in edgewise.
When it was his turn on the hot seat, Weakley refused to be bullied. He portrayed his role not as a supervisor but as a journeyman working with an apprentice. At one point St. Sure became so frustrated with Weakley’s detailed testimony that he threatened to leave the hearing. Despite all PG&E efforts to trip them up, Weakley and Hardie never wavered.
An attorney on Tobriner’s team, Stanley Neyhart, observed he had never before seen a corporation display such a vicious and vindictive attitude toward an employee in a legal proceeding.