Operating Engineers Union Hit with Charge for Illegally Demanding Forced Union Fees from Worker in Violation of Supreme Court’s Janus Decision
More than a year after court recognized First Amendment protects state workers from mandatory union payments, IOUE union officials claim forced fees are legal in California
Sacramento, CA (October 31, 2019) – A Sacramento County employee has filed an unfair labor practice charge with California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) against the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Stationary Engineers Local 39. His charge, filed with free legal aid from staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, states that union bosses demanded fees from him in violation of California labor law because they violated his First Amendment rights.
The employee, Ethan Morris, works at the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant and is not a member of IUOE Stationary Engineers. According to his charge, in July 2019 he received a notice from an IUOE financial secretary which claimed that “employees who do not join the Union must pay a…fee” to the union as a condition of employment, and that such mandatory fees are “legal and enforceable in California” via direct deductions from nonmember employees’ paychecks.
Morris’ charge argues that the union’s fee demands are a clear violation of his First Amendment rights under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. In Janus, a majority of the Court recognized that union dues or fees cannot be mandatory for public employees and may only be deducted from government workers’ paychecks if they have given “affirmative and knowing” waivers of their First Amendment right not to subsidize a union.
Morris’s charge maintains that IUOE Stationary Engineers bosses thus breached his rights under California’s Milias-Meyers-Brown Act (MMBA). That statute provides Golden State workers “the right to refuse to join or participate in the activities of employee organizations” and prohibits unions from “coerc[ing] or discriminat[ing] against” employees for exercising that right. Morris demands that union officials rectify the situation by stopping the illegal fee demands and posting a PERB-approved notice informing his coworkers of their right to refrain from union activities and acknowledging that compulsory fee demands violate that right.
Across the country, Foundation staff attorneys are currently litigating more than 30 cases to defend public employees’ First Amendment rights under Janus, which was successfully argued at the US Supreme Court by Foundation staff attorney William Messenger. In addition, Foundation staff attorneys have already won several cases enforcing Janus, including one for Ventura County Community College District math professor Michael McCain after American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union officials illegally attempted to restrict the time period in which he and his colleagues could exercise their Janus rights and cut off dues payments. In July, McCain won a settlement requiring AFT union bosses to stop blocking workers from exercising those rights and to provide refunds to workers who had dues seized because of the illegal policy.
“Union bosses have been caught red-handed lying to workers about their Janus rights in this case because Ethan Morris learned his legal rights before signing them away in the face of their illegal demands. Yet, for every worker who rebuffs illegal union threats there are almost certainly thousands of workers who unknowingly sign away their rights,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “This case shows why states must proactively protect their workers’ First Amendment rights and ensure that every worker fully understands their Janus rights and must not deduct any union dues or fees unless a worker knowingly and voluntarily waives those rights.”
Teamsters Officials Misled Pepsi Employee About His Rights, Attempted to Have Him Fired for Asking About Leaving Union
Albany-area worker filed unfair labor practice charge against Teamsters at National Labor Relations Board with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation
Latham, NY (October 30, 2019) — National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys filed an unfair labor practice charge on behalf of an employee of a Pepsi plant, against a local Teamsters union after union officials wrongly told him he would have to join the union as a condition of employment, tried to get him fired and would not allow him to exercise his legal right to resign from the union.
Vince Zasonski works for a Pepsi-Cola production plant in Lathan, New York where Teamsters Local 294 have a bargaining agreement which includes a union security clause, making union payments mandatory. In the summer of 2018, Zasonski, who did not voluntarily join the union, wanted to leave union membership, but a union official told him that because New York is not a Right to Work state, he would have to stay in the union.
In that statement, which came after Zasonski inquired about resigning from the union, the union fundamentally misstated workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act and longstanding legal precedents. While New York workers lack Right to Work protections that make all union payments strictly voluntary, Empire State workers still have the right to resign their formal membership and pay only the portion of union dues allowed under the Supreme Court’s Communications Workers of America v. Beck decision, which said unions cannot force workers to pay for activities unrelated to bargaining such as union political and lobbying activities.
The official then tried to get Zasonski fired for seeking to resign his union membership. In August of 2019, Zasonski wrote to union officials to resign his union membership and assert his Beck rights.
Union officials, however, still have not responded to his letter or recognized his legal rights. The unfair labor practice charge Zasonski filed with the free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys states that union officials never explained that he could resign from the union or that he could assert his Beck rights, nor did they provide him with a breakdown of fees according to the Beck standard or reduce Zasonski’s dues as he asked.
The union continues to unlawfully take a cut of Zasonski’s paycheck as if he were a full member of the union despite his attempts to resign membership and exercise his rights not to pay dues that support union political activities in violation of his rights.
“Lying to employees about their right to resign from union membership and their ability to stop paying full dues shows what lengths greedy union bosses will go to pad union coffers, even if it means violating the rights of the very workers they claim to represent,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “This case shows why every worker in America needs the protection of a Right to Work law that makes union membership and financial support strictly voluntary.”
Pinnacle Foods Employee Wins National Labor Relations Board Decision Affirming Right to Remove UFCW Union Opposed by Workers
NLRB: Settlement deal between employer and union officials cannot nullify workers’ legal right to hold a decertification election to remove union
Washington, DC (October 23, 2019) — With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an Illinois-based employee of Pinnacle Foods Group LLC (a Conagra Brands subsidiary), Robert Gentry, has just won a decision from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which affirms the right of workers to hold a vote to remove an unpopular union from their workplaces. The decision comes after union officials and Pinnacle Foods signed off on a settlement which the union and NLRB Regional Director claimed blocked Gentry and his coworkers from exercising their right to hold a union decertification election.
Gentry first submitted a petition for a decertification vote in August 2018. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 union officials immediately attempted to block the election by filing unfair labor practice charges against Pinnacle Foods. Despite UFCW officials’ allegations being unrelated to Gentry’s petition to remove the union, the NLRB Region 14 Director approved a settlement between UFCW officials and Pinnacle Foods which purportedly created a seven-month “bar” on decertification elections, on top of a previous one-year “bar.”
Although not mandated or even mentioned by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), prior NLRB actions have created the so-called “settlement bar” doctrine, which blocks workers for a period of time from exercising their statutory right to hold a vote to remove a union.
With legal representation by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, Gentry submitted a request for review to the NLRB in Washington, DC, demanding that the Board reverse the dismissal by the Region 14 Director and allow the decertification vote to proceed. The request argued that the Regional Director was wrong to use the settlement – to which Gentry was never party – to approve a block on the decertification election. “[T]he Regional Director cannot seriously contend that the petition should be dismissed…for the simple fact that…it is Mr. Gentry’s and the employees’ petition” and not that of the union or employer, the request reads.
The request further pointed out that the settlement agreement being used to block the workers right to a decertification vote contained a “non-admission” clause which plainly stated that the settlement “[did] not…constitute an admission, finding, or adjudication” that Pinnacle Foods had violated the NLRA. It also said that such a “mere presumption” of employer wrongdoing “is not…sufficient to thwart a decertification election.”
The decision from the NLRB in Washington, DC, now orders the Region 14 Director to process Gentry’s request for a decertification vote. The three-member majority agreed with the reasoning in Gentry’s request for review, ruling that “[b]ecause [Gentry] did not consent to the settlement agreement, we find that the settlement agreement can neither waive [his] right to have his decertification petition processed nor delay” a decertification election.
Foundation staff attorneys have long urged the NLRB to eliminate such “bar” doctrines that are not mandated by the statute enacted by Congress, which block workers from holding decertification votes authorized by the NLRA. Though agency officials announced last year that they would work in rulemaking to address some of these barriers to workers holding decertification votes, Foundation Legal Director Raymond LaJeunesse wrote a letter last year encouraging the agency to go further and eliminate all “bars” which run contrary to the NLRA by trapping workers in union boss ranks where even large majorities oppose the union.
“Although it’s good news that Robert Gentry and his coworkers will belatedly be given the opportunity to exercise their right to remove a union they oppose, this case shows how the so-called ‘settlement bar’ and other ‘bars’ are manipulated by union bosses to trample workers’ statutory rights under federal labor law,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Union bosses should not be able to trap workers in union ranks on the basis of a settlement to which the workers were not party and to which they had no say.”
“It’s long past time the NLRB put employee free choice back at the center of American labor law and eliminated the numerous ‘bars’ and doctrines that block workers from exercising their right to removing union officials they oppose,” added Mix.
Foundation Wins Settlement in Case Challenging CWA Union Scheme to Block New Mexico State Employees from Exercising Janus Rights
Union officials to pay back more than $16,000 illegally seized from workers’ paychecks and remove union-imposed restrictions on cutting off dues payments
Albuquerque, N.M. (October 21, 2019) — National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys have won a settlement in a case to protect New Mexico state employees’ rights as recognized in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision last year.
As the result of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the Communication Workers of America (CWA) union, CWA union officials will refund thousands of dollars taken from state employees and eliminate a union policy that blocked workers from opting out of paying dues. The settlement agreement, executed last Thursday, resolved the class-action lawsuit filed in December by New Mexico Department of Information Technology (DoIT) employee David McCutcheon against CWA union Local 7076 and New Mexico’s State Personnel Director Pamela D. Coleman.
As part of the settlement, the union officials will remove the union-created “escape period” which limited when workers could revoke their dues authorization. The union will also pay back fully, plus interest, all dues taken from McCutcheon and others who had attempted to exercise their First Amendment rights under Janus, but were blocked from doing so because of the “escape period” restrictions.
“Local 7076 and CWA will not enter into any [union contract] with the State of New Mexico that restricts to a yearly window period the time when a bargaining unit member may revoke a previously authorized dues deduction authorization,” the settlement reads.
All told, CWA union officials will refund more than $15,000 taken from 67 state employees, plus an additional $1,000 paid to McCutcheon for dues taken before Janus. The settlement became final today when District Court Judge Martha Vazquez approved a joint motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
McCutcheon works as an IT technician at New Mexico’s DoIT and was forced to pay union dues as a member before the Janus ruling last summer. After the Foundation-won victory, McCutcheon attempted to end the dues payments only to be told he could only do so during a brief two-week period in December.
Public sector union bosses across the country have attempted to enforce such schemes to block workers from exercising their Janus rights, resulting in over a dozen cases brought with National Right to Work Foundation legal aid. In addition to McCutcheon’s lawsuit, union officials in Minnesota, Ohio and California have also rescinded such policies rather than litigate against Foundation staff attorneys in federal court.
“Respecting workers’ Janus rights is not optional, it’s the law. Public sector workers’ First Amendment rights cannot be limited to just a few days a year,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “These union boss created ‘window periods’ clearly infringe on workers’ rights and are being struck down in lawsuits coast-to-coast brought with Foundation legal aid.”
National Right to Work Foundation Issues Special Legal Notice for Chicago Teachers Facing Strike: You Have Right to Refuse to Abandon Your Students
Recent cases brought by Foundation staff attorneys demonstrate union officials frequently mislead workers about their rights during a union-ordered strike
Chicago, IL (October 16, 2019) – Staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have issued a special legal notice to the over 20,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers who will be affected by the strike planned by Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) union officials to begin on October 17.
The legal notice informs rank-and-file CPS teachers of the rights CPU bosses won’t tell them about, including that they have the right to refuse to abandon their students and to keep working to support their families despite the union ordered strike. The notice discusses why workers across the country frequently turn to the National Right to Work Foundation for free legal aid in such situations.
“This strike raises serious concerns for employees who believe there is much to lose from a union-ordered strike,” the notice reads. “Employees have the legal right to rebuff union officials’ strike demands, but it is important for them to be fully informed before they do so.”
The full notice is available at https://www.nrtw.org/ctu-strike/.
The notice clearly outlines the process that teachers should follow if they want to exercise their right to return to work during the strike and avoid punishment from union bosses, complete with sample union membership resignation letters. It also reminds teachers of their First Amendment right as public employees under the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision to cut off union dues deductions from their paychecks at any time. Teachers are encouraged in the notice to seek free legal aid from the Foundation if they experience illegal restrictions on any of these rights.
The Foundation has recently assisted multiple employees who have been targets of union boss rights violations around strikes. Foundation staff attorneys recently won cases for two Massachusetts grocery workers who had been intimidated and harassed during the high-profile April 2019 strike on Stop & Shop ordered by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) bosses.
“CTU bosses appear intent on attempting to shut down Chicago schools with a strike in order to flex their political muscle, even if leaving children out in the cold achieves nothing for the rank-and-file teachers,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Chicago teachers must decide for themselves whether abandoning their students at the behest of CTU officials is really what is best for them, and Foundation staff attorneys stand by to assist those teachers who want to continue teaching their students and provide for their families.”
Seattle Nurse Wins Settlement of Federal Charges Against SEIU Union for Illegal Misinformation and Other Rights Violations
Nurse was never informed of her right to object to full union dues as a nonmember and later had union dues illegally seized from her paycheck by union bosses
Seattle, WA (October 9, 2019) – Staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have just won a settlement for Seattle, Washington-based nurse NancyEllen Elster, after Service Employee International Union (SEIU) 1199NW officials were charged with violating federal labor law by misinforming her about her rights and later enforcing illegal restrictions on her right to stop paying for union political activities and other lawfully “non-chargeable” expenses. The settlement, which validates and remedies her unfair labor practice charge against the union, was approved by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 19 in Seattle.
NancyEllen Elster works at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, which is under the monopoly bargaining power of the SEIU. Because Washington is not a Right to Work state, she can be required to pay fees to the union as a condition of employment, but the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision limits this to just the portion of union dues directly germane to bargaining.
Elster reported in her unfair labor practice charge against the union that SEIU officials had never properly apprised her or other workers about this right or provided the independent audit of the union’s calculation of its non-chargeable expenses that is required because of Beck. NLRB prosecutors additionally found that union officials failed to disseminate legally required information about the percentage of union fees employees could pay by abstaining from formal union membership.
Elster recounted in her charge that she sent SEIU bosses a letter in April 2019 resigning her membership and demanding that only the reduced amount of union fees permitted under Beck be taken from her wages. Union officials responded that she had missed a “window period” for Beck objections concocted by the union hierarchy. They also claimed that she would have to submit additional arbitrary paperwork to have her rights recognized. Elster had never been informed of this purported “window period” at any time in the past, but SEIU bosses continued to seize full dues from her paycheck in violation of her rights.
The NLRB settlement, won with free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys, orders SEIU officials to post notices that the union will no longer “apply [its] window period to become Beck objectors in order to foreclose employees resigning their union membership” or “fail … to reduce the monthly fee payment of objecting nonmembers” to the amount directly related to bargaining purposes. SEIU bosses also must refund to Elster fees they exacted from her paycheck in violation of Beck and inform employees who refrain from formal union membership of “the percentage of the fees reduction” they would receive by exercising their Beck rights.
Elster’s settlement comes on the heels of SEIU 775 in Washington State being forced to refund well over $3 million to home-based healthcare providers in the state who asserted in a 2014 lawsuit that the SEIU had diverted a percentage of Medicaid payments from them to the union in violation of their statutory and constitutional rights.
“Whether it’s a nurse in the private sector like NancyEllen Elster, or just private citizens who provide healthcare at home to relatives, SEIU officials are more concerned with stuffing their bank accounts with illegal forced union dues than respecting the legal rights of those they claim to represent,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Beck provides at least a check on this coercive power for private sector workers, but Foundation staff attorneys will keep fighting until no workers in America are forced to sacrifice part of their paychecks to union bosses they oppose.”
Alaska Governor Issues Executive Order to Enforce Janus Rights as Advocated by National Right to Work Foundation
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy recently issued an executive order to protect the First Amendment rights of all state employees under the Janus v. AFSCME decision won by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation at the United States Supreme Court in June 2018.
Under the new rule, adopted following a formal opinion by Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, the state will deduct union fees only from the paychecks of employees who have filed a waiver with the state acknowledging their wishes to have union dues taken from their paychecks despite their right under Janus not to fund any union activities.
Tho order follows an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal by National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix and veteran Foundation staff attorney William Messenger (who argued the Janus case at the Supreme Court) which encouraged Gov. Dunleavy to take this proactive step to enforce the Janus decision in Alaska, and also urged elected officials in other states to follow Alaska’s example:
Politicians in state capitals where Big Labor has a stranglehold are resisting compliance with Janus. Faced with both government and union resistance, public employees have filed dozens of lawsuits seeking to stop unions from seizing money from their paychecks.
But not all elected officials are so beholden to union bosses. Some are willing to put employee freedom before the interests of union officials. Alaska started that process Tuesday when, at the request of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson issued a formal opinion delineating how the state must change its payroll process to comply with Janus by ensuring that employees “freely and knowingly consented to have dues deducted from their paychecks.” Alaska’s solution includes stopping dues deductions absent an annual renewal of the waiver.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being taken out of workers’ paychecks each month without any evidence that they waived their First Amendment right not to fund union activities, including partisan electioneering. Other state officials, along with federal agencies, should follow Alaska’s example.
The complete op-ed is available online here.
Public sector workers can learn more about their First Amendment rights under the Janus decision by visiting MyJanusRights.org.