US Air Fires Mechanics For Not Funding Union Politics
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - When John Masiello and Craig Sickler stood up to International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 1725 bosses' attempts to swipe dues for politics from their paychecks, they knew they were risking the destruction of their careers. But standing firm for principle was more important to them.
After Masiello and Sickler refused to fork over the political cash for six months, weak-kneed US Air officials bowed to union boss demands and terminated the two workers after more than 10 years of loyal service. Now, Foundation attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the two Charlotte-based airplane mechanics in order to save their jobs - and make US Air and the Machinists union bosses pay through the nose for violating employee rights.
Workers fired for exercising their legal rights
The saga began last November when Masiello and Sickler attempted to exercise their Foundation-won right not to fund IAM activities not directly related to collective bargaining, like politics.
While the workers are not protected by North Carolina's highly popular Right to Work law because they worked in the airline industry, numerous U.S. Supreme Court precedents - including the Foundation-won Ellis v. Railway Clerks decision - establish workers' right to refrain from formal union membership and the payment of full dues.
But before they can even seize one thin dime, union officials must provide non-member workers with independently audited financial disclosures to prove that forced dues are not being spent on activities unrelated to collective bargaining.
Throughout the six-month ordeal, Masiello and Sickler repeatedly requested Local 1725 officials to disclose their expenses.
"All the men were asking for was that IAM Local 1725 officials respect their constitutional rights," said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the Foundation. "For that, the union would destroy their careers."
In response to repeated inquiries by Masiello and Sickler, IAM Local 1725 officials offered nothing more than lies and delays.
Finally, in April 1999, both workers received letters from IAM Local 1725 officials which threatened them with "further actions" if they did not pay all their past dues in full plus a $125 "reinstatement fee." When neither of the brave workers budged in the face of these illegal threats, IAM officials informed them that they would have US Air fire them.
Despite an appeal to US Air management by the workers, the airline officials toed the union line and immediately fired them. In a letter to the workers, US Air officials proclaimed that employees' Foundation-won rights were "not germane to the standards for discharge set forth in . . . the collective bargaining agreement."
Foundation attorneys fight to save workers' jobs
Soon after being contacted by Masiello and Sickler, Foundation attorneys filed a federal complaint against IAM 1725 officials and US Air in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. The complaint charges US Air and Local 1725 officials with wrongful termination under the United States Constitution, the Railway Labor Act, and clear Supreme Court precedents. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, the workers seek reinstatement to their jobs.
The complaint also attacks US Air's "indemnification" clause in its collective bargaining agreement with the union hierarchy as facially invalid. The clause purportedly protects the company from liability for any illegal activity taken "for the purpose of complying with any of the provisions of this agreement."
"When union and company officials make sweetheart deals to line the union's pockets, all too often, workers get sold down the river," said Gleason. "That's why Foundation attorneys are determined to hold both the union and US Air officials accountable for their actions."