Up to 25 women garment workers were due in court on Monday to hear their suit against the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers (UNITE) which claims the union cost them their jobs by forcing their employer out of business.

The women allege UNITE retaliated against them for trying to decertify the union in early 1997 when they were employed by Californian outerwear maker Sorrento Coats which went bankrupt in late 1998.

They claim the shutdown was due to "UNITE's efforts to force Sorrento out of business by withholding Sorrento's work supply while refusing to give up their exclusive representative status and accompanying fiduciary duty to the workers".

Lawyers representing the group in a California appeals court today said the main legal issue is "whether a union, with substantial power over workers' employment, may deliberately shut down the employer in retribution for the workers' efforts to free themselves of a union".

However UNITE says it had no obligation to consider the interests of the Sorrento workers in any action it took and that it is immune from any legal action due to cover provided by the National Labour Relations Act.