Foundation-aided truck driver illegally forced to fund Laborers Political Action
Washington, DC – West Virginia worker Jeffrey Richmond finally has closure on a four-year legal battle in West Virginia that began with being forced to contribute to a union boss Political Action Committee and ended with being fired as retaliation. This past fall, in response to charges filed by Foundation staff attorneys against the company and the associated union, the Federal Election Commission assessed Penn Line Services, Inc. of West Virginia a fine as a civil penalty. The company was found guilty of illegally deducting union dues and PAC contributions from Richmond’s paycheck to send to LIUNA union officials and then retaliated against Richmond for objecting to the scheme.
In July 2012, nearly four years before West Virginia passed a Right to Work law, Penn Line hired Jeffrey Richmond as a driver/laborer. At the time, the company had a monopoly bargaining agreement in force with the Laborers International Union (LIUNA), Local 453. Richmond was not a member of LIUNA and did not authorize any form of payroll deduction.
Several months later, Penn Line presented Richmond with a union membership form. On the provided mandatory union membership form was a section for payroll contributions to the LIUNA Political Action Committee. Under federal law, contributions to political action committees or political funds are completely voluntary and workers may refuse to contribute without fear of reprisal. Richmond agreed to join the union, signing the membership portion of the form, but chose not to authorize payroll deductions to the PAC.
However, Penn Line representatives, without authorization, deducted money from Richmond’s paycheck dating back to the date of his hiring so the money could go to the union PAC fund. Shortly after Richmond signed the membership form without the payroll deduction section, a Penn Line official informed him that the form was being returned to him for his authorization of the union PAC deductions. When Richmond refused, Penn Line immediately fired him, even though federal law clearly states that all PAC contributions must be completely voluntary.
NLRB Charges Filed
Richmond reached out to the Foundation, and with the assistance of Foundation staff attorneys filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The charges were investigated, and in 2013 Penn Line Service, Inc. was forced to settle. Under the terms of that settlement, Richmond was awarded back pay as damages, as well as reimbursements for items like uniforms.
“This scheme is a blatant example of the illegal confiscation of a worker’s money for union boss electioneering,” said Patrick Semmens, Vice President of the Foundation. “Further adding to the outrage, when this worker objected to the theft he was terminated as retaliation for standing up for his rights.”
Union and Company Officials Hit With FEC Complaint
Foundation staff attorneys also assisted in filing charges with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The charges list the four counts where Penn Line and LIUNA brass violated Richmond’s rights. These counts include the numerous times where Penn Line officials refused to inform Richmond of his right to refuse to contribute to a PAC without reprisal, the failure to notify Richmond of the political purposes and nature of the deductions from his paycheck, and the illegal termination of his position despite his religious objection status.
The FEC investigated the charges against Penn Line, Laborers International Union, and LIUNA Local 453, determining that Penn Line had illegally deducted union dues from workers for political purposes without giving the workers an opportunity to object, violating the workers’ rights. The FEC issued a conciliation agreement in October of last year that fined Penn Line the sum of $5,500. Despite the Foundation’s FEC charges specifically denoting the involvement of LIUNA officials, the charges laid against LIUNA International and the LIUNA Local 453 union officials were dropped.
This is not the first time that FEC charges have been filed against a union for funding political action through illegal dues deductions or mishandling of funds. Following a complaint filed by Foundation staff attorneys in 2007 against Americans Coming together, an SEIU “527” group, the FEC levied record fines albeit not large compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars involved in the case.
“Under Foundation-won court precedent, workers have the right to refuse to pay for political and ideological union activities,” continued Semmens. “This sort of dramatic overreach of power by union officials is what laid the groundwork for West Virginia to become the 26th Right to Work state early last year.”
The Foundation created a special task force last year to defend and enforce West Virginia’s newly-passed Right to Work law. Foundation staff attorneys are offering free legal advice and aid to Mountain State workers seeking to exercise their rights as guaranteed by the Right to Work law to refrain from union membership and union dues payment. In addition, Foundation staff attorneys are currently defending the West Virginia Right to Work law in state court against a lawsuit by multiple union officials seeking to overturn the law ending Big Labor’s power to have a worker fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees.