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ABC NEWS SHOW:
20/20 (ABC 9:00 pm ET)

March 18, 1994

Transcript # 1411-2

'CANNED!’ – FIRED CAMPBELL’S SOUP EMPLOYEES FIGHT BACK

Sixty-two employees at a Campbell's Soup factory in Napoleon, Ohio, are fighting their dismissal by the company after private investigators said they were using drugs, despite the lack of hard evidence.

 HUGH DOWNS: What if the person working next to you every day was really a spy, hired by the boss to keep an eye on you? Well, believe it or not, that's exactly what was going on at the Campbell's Soup Company. Campbell's says it was looking into complaints by a dozen employees that some workers were using drugs on the job, but most of the 62 workers who were accused and fired say it's a lie.

Can a worker be fired based on accusations? Was Campbell's Soup's investigation fair? Well, Tom Jarriel looked for answers during his own investigation.

TOM JARRIEL, ABC News: [voice-over] For over a century, Campbell's Soup Company has nurtured its image as a friendly, healthy addition to the table of millions of American homes. Today, top names like skater Nancy Kerrigan endorse Campbell's products in sophisticated advertising campaigns. It's a multi-billion-dollar company that makes soups and a wide range of foods from fish sticks to juices to pickles. It's big business with a small-town appeal, and one of its main plants is located smack-dab in the heartland.

[on camera] Napoleon, Ohio, population 8,800. If there's anything like a company town, this is it, and the company is Campbell's Soup, by far the largest employer here. It seems an unlikely place for controversy, but just over a year ago more than 60 workers were summarily fired for allegedly using drugs on the job. Most of the workers say they're innocent, and were framed by the company. The result? A bitter confrontation between Campbell's and the union over the firings.

[voice-over] Caught in the crossfire are typical American families, the fired employees of Campbell's Soup. Ted Iorio is the union's lawyer.

TED IORIO: No matter what we do, no matter how hard we fight, no matter whether we try to bargain with them or not, they're not backing off, 'cause they're the Campbell kids, and it's the power of soup, you know.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Local 626 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International is fighting to get those fired back in the plant, and some of the workers are suing the company for millions of dollars in damages. David Gelios is head of the union.

[interviewing] To the best of your knowledge, was there a significant drug problem at the plant?

DAVID GELIOS: No. We have never had that. The company has the right to inspect their lockers, their lunch buckets, the bags that come in. They've never found a case like that. We've never had it.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] So is Napoleon a hotbed of drug trafficking? No. In fact, only 36 arrests were made for drugs in the area last year. But Campbell's was convinced there was a need for an internal investigation at its plant, so the company hired a California private detective firm, Krout and Schneider, to place undercover operatives inside the Napoleon plant.

For several months, ending in December 1992, three operatives went undercover to spy on the assembly lines, working side by side with Campbell's employees. Another was posted as a guard who roamed the parking lot, keeping notes on people he thought were using drugs. But there were no photographs, videotapes or other physical evidence, only the secret reports sent back each night to the headquarters in California. Finally, the workers were brought into an interrogation room, sometimes for up to six hours, confronted with the accusations, and dismissed.

Jim Nagel worked for Campbell's Soup for 10 years. He lost his $13-an-hour job because one investigator charged he smoked marijuana twice during lunch in the parking lot.

JIM NAGEL: I've never touched it, I don't care to. I won't have it around my family because I don't want it around my kids.

TOM JARRIEL: Did you have a sense that through the interrogation, they were trying to break you?

JIM NAGEL: Oh, yeah. They- you know, they kept harassing you about drugs, you know, they had photographs of me smoking marijuana. And I told them the only way they had a photograph of me smoking anything, even a cigarette, is if they doctored up photographs.

TOM JARRIEL: These are the company's charges that they made against you specifically. How do you answer them? 'Subject was observed smoking marijuana with Steve Gilgenbach in a company parking lot.'

JIM NAGEL: It never happened. Steve doesn't smoke, I don't smoke. He doesn't smoke cigarettes, either.

TOM JARRIEL: It goes on to say that on the very next day you stated that you had smoked marijuana a couple of times in the company parking lot, this to what they call their operative, their uniformed security man.

JIM NAGEL: Never talked to their operative that I know of. I wouldn't- I sure wouldn't stand in a hallway and have a conversation with somebody I don't know.

STEVE GILGENBACH: I told them that there was no way I did it, you know.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Steve Gilgenbach, the father of two young girls, was fired for allegedly using marijuana twice in the parking lot. A private eye said he saw him with Nagel.

[interviewing] They never offered any videotapes, any hard evidence?

STEVE GILGENBACH: I asked them to see the evidence, and they said they didn't have time to go into it. I stood up and I come across the desk, and I said, 'I want to take a drug test now.' And they said, 'It wouldn't do you no good.'

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] His wife Julie.

JULIE GILGENBACH: He told me, and I just couldn't believe it. And I know for sure that he is not guilty of what this person accused him of. There's no doubt in my mind.

TOM JARRIEL: What was it like on you and your family at home? A lot of insecurity?

JULIE GILGENBACH: Very. Lot. It was- it was bad. It was a rough time. It still is tough.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Les Guelde lost his job preparing spices for soups, after 13 years at Campbell's. An undercover agent claimed Guelde snorted cocaine in a company bathroom.

LES GUELDE: I told them that I've never even seen cocaine, except on TV, and the investigator sat there and called me a liar.

TOM JARRIEL: What did you do to try to prove you were innocent?

LES GUELDE: I demanded a drug test on the spot, to the investigators, and they denied me one. They wouldn't give me a drug test. So I come home that night very upset, and I called the hospital, and I had a urinalysis drug test done, and I had a hair follicle test, which tests for cocaine residue in the hair follicles and the hair shafts, and I had a polygraph test done, and all the drug tests come back negative, and the polygraph test come back showing that I was telling the truth, and they wouldn't even look at it.

TOM JARRIEL: So that was never considered by the company before they let you go?

LES GUELDE: No.

TOM JARRIEL: What angers you the most about what they did?

LES GUELDE: Well, just, you know, I had to- I couldn't pay my bills, so I had to call places, and you know, as soon as you mentioned that you worked at Campbell's and they knew exactly what it was for, and it's just ruined my reputation, it's ruined my name. You know, if it wasn't for my family, I would have lost everything.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Of the 62 employees fired, some insisted they were innocent, while over half admitted orally or in writing they were guilty of the charges. Nearly all of them have since retracted their statements, claiming they were coerced into making them during lengthy interrogations. Forrest Fisher speaks for Campbell's. He's head of the company's medical and safety programs.

FORREST FISHER: We feel that the investigation was credible and reasonable. It was our intent to maintain a safe workplace and to address this as a workplace issue, and that's exactly what we've done.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Campbell's won the first round when the state of Ohio ruled the company had followed appropriate procedures in firing the employees. But the cases are now before independent arbitrators and the civil courts. Ironically, the only criminal charges filed in the big drug bust at Campbell's were against the private investigating firm. They were fined $1,000 for failing to register with local authorities, as required by Ohio law.

20/20 retained Mike Kessler, a long-time private investigator, to analyze the cases made by Campbell's.

[interviewing] What's your assessment of this investigation?

MIKE KESSLER: Well, I have some problems with them. There was- the notes that were taken were destroyed. Covert recordings and audio were not done at all. Witnesses that backed out after they made various statements against an individual, and finally the coercion, the interviewing process, keeping somebody in a room for the amount of time that was involved certainly leaves questions regarding their procedures.

TOM JARRIEL: These aren't normal techniques?

MIKE KESSLER: No, they're not.

TOM JARRIEL: Have you heard of a case this size, with this number of employees being accused of drug use and local police being totally cut out of it?

MIKE KESSLER: It's unbelievable. When you have 62 employees getting involved or caught in an undercover operation in a three-month period of time, and not having local law enforcement contacted so that they can find out what the sources are, it's- I question the validity of that investigation.

TOM JARRIEL: Do you think the fired employees have a case against Campbell's?

MIKE KESSLER: Oh, I think that they have an argument. I think they have a damned good argument.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Dr. Fisher of Campbell's declined to discuss any specific cases of those fired because of pending lawsuits, but the company agreed to speak about the overall investigation.

[interviewing] You based your case on the work of Krout and Schneider, right?

FORREST FISHER: We based our case on the facts that were developed from the investigation.

TOM JARRIEL: By Krout and Schneider. Why didn't these people pick up any hard physical evidence in their investigation? It's all one man's word against another.

FORREST FISHER: The manner of the investigation was determined by the investigating firm, and any questions referable to that should be addressed to them.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Dr. Fisher maintains local officials were consulted about the investigation, but police say they were cut out of the probe.

[interviewing] It sounded like a major drug operation. Why not call in the police?

FORREST FISHER: It was not Campbell Soup Company's intent to pursue criminal prosecution. It was our intent to maintain safety in the workplace. That's the way it was pursued. We feel that was fair, we feel that the facts speak for themselves.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] We wanted to speak with the private detective firm, but they declined our request to be interviewed.

For those fired at Campbell's, one of the principal employers in all of western Ohio, finding work has been difficult. Steve Gilgenbach searched for more than a year before he finally found a job.

STEVE GILGENBACH: It takes a toll on you, knowing you- you don't do nothing, and everybody's saying- they put you all in one group and say, 'You're all druggies in here.'

JULIE GILGENBACH: I just hold my head high and know what we believe in, and we do not believe in using drugs for our lifestyle.

TOM JARRIEL: [voice-over] Jim Nagel is still out of work.

[interviewing] Hope you get your job back?

JIM NAGEL: There's nothing else around here really pays what Campbell's Soup does. I know it won't be the same going back, if I do go back, because Campbell's Soup lost my respect, and it's going to take them a long time to get that back, if they ever will.

BARBARA WALTERS: Tom, this seems to be a very unusual way to go about things, or am I just misinformed? Is this how most companies try to find out if people are on drugs?

TOM JARRIEL: Not at all, Barbara. Our consultant says this was a very rare investigation. Most companies use surveillance cameras and drug testing, standard techniques. They don't build a case like this.

BARBARA WALTERS: Now, what about arbitration? You said that the men and women may be going into arbitration.

TOM JARRIEL: The first case has been completed. An arbitrator has ruled entirely in favor of one of the employees, Les Guelde, he was in our report. He gets his job back, he gets back pay, he gets seniority restored. He will report back to Campbell's. The other cases are still pending.

BARBARA WALTERS: But each one has the opportunity for arbitration?

TOM JARRIEL: Right. Right. There are 62 cases here. This is only the first. Each one has to fight their way back in. Guelde has succeeded.

BARBARA WALTERS: There's a long road ahead.

TOM JARRIEL: Right.

BARBARA WALTERS: Thank you, Tom.

TOM JARRIEL: Certainly.


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