Autoworkers Challenge National Agreement Mandating Acquired Companies to Help Unionize their Own Employees
Cleveland, Ohio (August 5, 2003) – In a potentially precedent-setting legal challenge, employees of Collins & Aikman today filed federal charges against a “secondary boycott” arrangement that forces companies acquired by Heartland Industrial Partners LLP to help the Steelworkers unionize their unsuspecting employees and then impose the same requirement on other companies with which they do certain business.
The charges attack an increasingly common “top-down organizing” tactic that is used to short-circuit traditional grassroots-driven union organizing drives that more frequently fail, due to a lack of interest in unionization among rank-and-file employees.
With the help of attorneys from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Linda Kandel, Galen Raber, Juanita Miller, and Renate Croll filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the United Steelworkers of America, Heartland Industrial Partners LLP, and Collins & Aikman Corporation.
As part of their pact with the Steelworkers union, Heartland agreed to force any company in which it has substantial investments to accept a so-called “neutrality agreement.” Under the terms of the “neutrality agreement,” the company must deny employees an opportunity to vote in a traditional secret ballot election, give union organizers employees’ private information including home addresses, and, ultimately, force workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
The newly acquired company must then impose the “neutrality agreement” on corporations it acquires or with which it does substantial business.
In return for this arrangement, union officials pour workers’ trust funds into Heartland, promise to stifle employee rights under federal law, and limit employees’ ability to influence their own wages, benefits, and working conditions.
“Heartland and the Steelworkers union are using their sweetheart deal to spread compulsory unionism like a virus and infect as many workers as possible,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation.
This quid pro quo arrangement may also violate civil and criminal provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. Today’s NLRB charges follow up a lawsuit filed last week by Foundation attorneys, Patterson et al. v. Heartland Industrial Partners LLP et al., challenging the “neutrality agreement” between Heartland and the Steelworkers union. The suit was filed on behalf of Wanda Patterson, an employee of Collins & Aikman, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
In 2001, Heartland bought out the Collins & Aikman Corporation and forced the company to accept a “neutrality agreement” with the Steelworkers union. Employees at the Holmesville, Ohio, Collins & Aikman facility had previously voted on several occasions to reject union representation before unionization was imposed in recent months under the so-called “neutrality agreement.”
SPRINGFIELD, Va. (August 1, 2003) – With a disruptive telecommunications strike imminent from Virginia to Maine, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation today announced that it will offer free legal aid to non-striking Verizon workers who are targeted for illegal harassment or violence during the strike ordered by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union.
According to news reports, during the last CWA union strike against Verizon in 2000, there were “455 incidences of threats to workers, vandalism, and assaults” attributed to the strike.
“With union officials ordering employees off the job, employees who courageously continue to work often face violence and other ugly forms of retaliation,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “The Foundation and its staff attorneys are prepared to provide free legal aid to workers who are victims of union coercion.”
The union’s strike centers, in part, on its attempt to force Verizon’s management to agree to assist the union in organizing Verizon Wireless – despite the fact that those employees have previously rejected union organizing drives.
An analysis of history shows that union officials frequently call strikes to seize more authority over employees, rather than to seek additional employee benefits.
In addition to a documented history of violence, the CWA union hierarchy has a long history of fining and suing employees who continue to work to support their families. The only way to escape these fines and union lawsuits is for non-striking employees to resign from formal union membership before returning to work. However union officials frequently deceive employees about their right to resign, or they simply refuse to honor employees’ resignations from membership.
Important Information For Workers:
Altoona, Pa. (August 1, 2003) – Two employees of Warnaco Inc. filed charges asking that officials of the nation’s largest textile union be stripped of their exclusive representation power over Warnaco’s Altoona- based employees, as the union’s recognition was based on a “false and tainted” process. Meanwhile, 60 percent of the Warnaco employees have signed a petition declaring that they never signed union authorization cards.
With the help of attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation, Donna Taneyhill and Helen Holdsworth, two non-union employees, filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) and its Mid-Atlantic Regional Joint Board.
Last month, UNITE officials claimed that – pursuant to the implementation of a so-called “neutrality agreement” and a “card check” authorization process – a majority of Warnaco employees had indicated they supported unionization. Based on this claim that was not verified by any company or government official, company officials nevertheless recognized the union as the exclusive representative. This action granted union officials a monopoly on bargaining over wages and working conditions that bind all Warnaco employees, and granted power to help impose compulsory union dues on the unwilling workers.
Responding to UNITE’s claims, 60 percent of workers in the plant have signed a petition declaring they never signed the union authorization cards. Without a majority of workers signing the authorization cards, UNITE officials have no right to act as the workers’ exclusive representative. Meanwhile, other employees have come forward alleging UNITE organizers harassed employees and coerced them to sign union authorization cards. The employees ask that the NLRB prohibit the union from bargaining on their behalf.
In addition to filing unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, Taneyhill and Holdsworth also submitted a petition to the NLRB seeking a decertification election. If the decertification election is successful, UNITE will likewise lose its power to act as the “exclusive bargaining representative” of the employees, and all Warnaco employees will be free to negotiate their own terms and conditions of employment.
“Union organizers exploit the highly abusive card check process to impose a union on employees without their consent,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation.
Recently, Warnaco and UNITE officials signed a so-called “neutrality agreement,” denying workers the ability to reject unionization through a secret ballot election and allowing the union to sign up workers under a “card check” authorization scheme. In recent years, as union organizers have had less success in persuading employees to vote for unionization during secret ballot elections, unions have focused on eliciting employer support in corralling workers into union collectives.
Washington, D.C. (August 1, 2003) – Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an employee rights advocacy group, issued the following statement regarding today’s anticipated endorsement of Congressman Richard Gephardt’s (D-MO) presidential candidacy:
“For most observers of politics, this announcement should come as no surprise. In fact, the only people in Washington who actually might be surprised by this announcement may be a few members of the White House political team who have been falling all over themselves to court James Hoffa and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters hierarchy for almost two years.
“This development further demonstrates the foolishness of a strategy pursued by the White House political office to make core policy concessions in exchange for Big Labor’s political support. The union brass have shown their gratitude by continuing to attack Bush and other Republicans and now by endorsing Bush’s opponent.
“Of course, this endorsement will almost certainly mean the commitment of millions of dollars in compulsory union dues to support Gephardt’s candidacy. Yet a large percentage of rank-and-file workers who work under Teamsters union contracts are Republicans and do not support Gephardt’s agenda.”
“By standing up for issues like Right to Work, cutting taxes, and reducing the size and scope of government, the President will earn the support of America’s rank-and-file union members. Indeed, if the President rejects his own principles to curry favor with Hoffa, John Sweeney, or other union bosses, it will ultimately hurt his reelection chances rather than enhance them.”
While Mr. Mix conceded that for the last two years the President has been focused on foreign affairs, Mix cited a long record of concessions by Bush Administration figures made to the Teamsters officials. The Bush Administration has:
- 1) given Teamsters officials significant influence over selection of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB);
2) encouraged Congress not to hold hearings on legislation that would be embarrassing to union officials, such as legislation to end compulsory unionism;
3) filed arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing review of a NLRB decision that gutted employee rights not to pay forced union dues spent to support objectionable union activities;
4) agreed to insert a discriminatory union-only project labor agreement into the Alaska energy legislation; and
5) signaled its intention to release the corrupt Teamsters union from federal oversight.
Heartland, Steelworkers Hit With First-Ever Challenge to Pacts That Impose Union on Auto Industry Employees
Akron, Ohio (July 28, 2003) – National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys today filed an unprecedented federal court challenge against Heartland Industrial Partners LLP and the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) union, seeking to overturn an illegal sweetheart arrangement that requires all companies acquired by the Heartland firm to help impose unionization on their employees.
The suit calls into question the legality of a rapidly emerging organizing trend – especially prevalent in the automobile and hotel industries – in which struggling union organizers abandon traditional grassroots-driven unionization drives and instead elicit assistance from companies to impose compulsory unionism on their own employees through highly coercive top-down organizing methods.
Foundation attorneys filed the suit, Patterson et al. v. Heartland Industrial Partners LLP et al., in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, on behalf of Wanda Patterson, an employee of the Heartland-acquired Collins & Aikman company, an Ohio-based automotive parts manufacturer whose employees had rejected union organizing efforts on several previous occasions.
Under the pact at issue, Heartland forces acquired companies to operate under a so-called “neutrality agreement” that requires company managers to assist USWA union officials in organizing their employees – including denying employees an opportunity to vote in a traditional secret ballot election, giving union organizers employees’ private employment information such as home addresses, and, ultimately, forcing employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment. In return, union officials pour unsuspecting workers’ trust funds into Heartland, promise to stifle employee rights under federal law, and limit employees’ ability to influence their own wages, benefits, and working conditions.
It is believed that this quid pro quo violates civil and criminal provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act enacted by Congress to prevent corruption, conflicts of interest, and sweetheart deals between company and union officials that compromise the interests of rank-and-file employees.
“This backroom deal between Heartland and the Steelworkers union is nothing more than a cynical scheme designed to aggrandize union officials at the expense of employees,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Since employees increasingly reject union affiliation when actually given a choice, union officials are resorting to these new coercive tactics to stem their hemorrhaging membership numbers and slumping compulsory dues revenues.”
In 2001, Heartland bought out the Collins & Aikman Corporation and forced the company to accept a “neutrality agreement” with the USWA union. Employees at the Holmesville, Ohio, Collins & Aikman facility had previously voted on several occasions to reject union representation before unionization was imposed in recent months under the so-called “neutrality agreement.”
The founding partner of the Heartland investment firm is David Stockman, former Director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget during the Reagan Administration.
Fairfield, Calif. (July 23, 2003) — A Fairfield area resident employed on a part-time basis as a weekend lab technician for Anheuser-Busch has filed federal charges against the local chapter of the Teamsters union for failing to properly inform her of her right to refrain from joining the union and the right to refrain from supporting the union’s political and ideological causes.
Obtaining free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Catharine Anderson filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after officials of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 896, charged her excessive union fees, misrepresented her rights, and threatened to have her fired for refusing to comply with the union hierarchy’s illegal demands.
“The bully tactics used by the Teamsters hierarchy are despicable,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Unfortunately, so long as union officials are given compulsory unionism privileges, workers will continue to suffer such abuse.”
In addition, Anderson is charging that Teamsters union officials not only failed to notify her and her fellow workers of their right to refrain from union membership, but repeatedly threatened to fire them for refusing to pay full union dues.
By doing so, Teamsters union officials violated worker protections recognized in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Communications Workers of America v. Beck, a case argued and won by Foundation attorneys. Under the Beck ruling, workers have the option to refrain from full membership, and pay only those costs to the union that are related to collective bargaining.
Teamsters union officials have also charged Anderson a “hiring hall” fee, even though she was not hired through, and never used, the hiring hall. Anderson is demanding that the union return all of the money she was illegally charged as the “hiring hall” fee.
El Monte, Calif. (July 23, 2003) — A local Rite-Aid Corporation pharmacy intern has filed federal charges against a local affiliate of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union for failing to inform him of his right to refrain from formal union membership, disregarding his objection to paying full dues, having him suspended, and threatening to have him fired for failure to pay full dues.
With free legal assistance from attorneys with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, intern Olaf Dominguez filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when UFCW Local 1428 union officials pressured his employer to suspend him for a week without pay for refusing to pay full union dues.
Though Dominguez never joined the UFCW union or received any information about it, he received a letter after working for Rite-Aid for three months “welcoming” him to the union and demanding that he pay $280 in initiation fees and dues. Dominguez paid that amount under protest to save his job, but he is now seeking reimbursement for his lost wages and illegally seized dues.
“Union officials want professionals like Olaf Dominguez to simply shut up and pay up,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “This shows that union bosses are more concerned with using workers as their personal ATMs rather than standing up for the interests of those whom they supposedly represent.”
By failing to notify Dominguez and his fellow workers of their right to refrain from union membership, UFCW union officials violated worker protections recognized by the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Communications Workers of America v. Beck, a case Foundation attorneys argued and won. Under Beck, workers have the option to refrain from formal union membership and may be forced only to pay an agency fee to cover the union’s collective bargaining costs.
Furthermore, under U.S. Supreme Court precedents, union officials must provide non-member workers an independent audit of union expenditures to ensure they are not funding activities unrelated to collective bargaining, such as politics. UFCW union officials never provided Dominguez or his fellow workers with such an audit.
“No one should be forced to pay dues to an unwanted union just to get or keep their job,” stated Gleason. “This is especially true when union officials don’t even bother to observe workers’ limited due process protections.”
Tulsa, Okla. (July 22, 2003) – In a victory for workers across Oklahoma, Judge David Peterson of the Oklahoma State District Court for Tulsa County ruled to uphold Oklahoma’s Right to Work Law, rejecting a clever union legal attack.
The decision came in the case of Eastern Oklahoma Building and Construction Trades Council v. Ralph Pitts, where union lawyers challenged the Right to Work amendment on grounds that it violates the Oklahoma constitution. In issuing his decision, Judge Peterson denied motions filed by the union lawyers and granted defendant intervenor Stephen Weese’s motion for summary judgment, thereby upholding the Right to Work amendment.
National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys represented defendant intervenor Stephen Weese, an employee of Oklahoma Fixture Company in Tulsa. As such, Foundation attorneys were allowed to file briefs and make oral arguments defending employees’ direct financial and liberty interests at stake in the preservation of the Right to Work amendment.
“This is an encouraging development for workers across Oklahoma,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the Foundation. “It’s an outrage that union bosses are so hell-bent on destroying the freedom and prosperity that Oklahomans have begun to enjoy since the Right to Work amendment took effect.”
Filed quietly on May 13, 2003, in Oklahoma State District Court for Tulsa County, the suit challenged the Right to Work constitutional amendment on grounds that it somehow violates the Oklahoma constitution. When pressed, the plaintiff’s lawyer later admitted publicly that the suit was a “friendly suit,” meaning that both parties (union and employer) opposed the state’s Right to Work law.
Legal documents show that the employer defendant, electrical contractor Ralph Pitts, was represented by an attorney who has previously represented International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 584, a member of the plaintiff trades council and the “real party in interest” in this lawsuit. This attorney filed only a perfunctory “opposition” to the union’s motion for summary judgment.
A legal challenge filed on separate grounds is still pending at the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
On September 25, 2001, Oklahoma became a Right to Work state when voters enacted State Question 695, a constitutional amendment which bans the widespread practice of forcing workers to join an unwanted union or pay any union dues as a condition of employment. Since the Right to Work amendment took effect in Oklahoma, the state has led the nation in creation of new jobs – despite a struggling American economy.
Fort Worth, Tex. (July 18, 2003) – After a lengthy delay, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Office has issued an amended complaint alleging that union officials illegally forced objecting workers to pay compulsory union dues without a proper audit.
With free legal aid from attorneys with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Billy Lee, a cafeteria worker at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, filed unfair labor practice charges against the Laborers’ Local 1168 union, an affiliate of Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), in 1993. Lee also filed a supplemental challenge in 1997.
In recent days, the NLRB announced that it intends to prosecute the union before an administrative law judge next month. The key issue is whether the local must provide the workers with an audit to justify the seizure of compulsory dues, which local union officials avoided.
“This sort of bureaucratic stonewalling amounts to an effective denial of Billy Lee’s rights,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “While it is encouraging to hear the NLRB will finally take up the case, this sort of delay is inexcusable.”
Employees who work on exclusive federal property are not protected by Texas’ highly popular Right to Work law, and therefore they can be lawfully compelled to pay certain union dues as a job condition, so long as the employees’ due process rights are observed.
However, the complaint accuses LIUNA Local 1168 of unfair labor practices against non-union members by failing to provide them with an audit of how they spend workers’ forced dues. Upon resigning from union membership in 1992, Lee was simply provided with a one-page sheet on the local’s expenses. He never received an “audit” of the local bargaining versus non-bargaining expenses.
Under the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court ruling Communications Workers v. Beck, workers are entitled, at their request, to an immediate exemption from, and refund of, compulsory union dues that are spent for activities not directly related to collective bargaining, such as politics. In addition to audited disclosure of union expenditures, Lee seeks a refund of all forced dues spent on non-bargaining activities, plus interest, since he resigned from formal union membership.
St. Mary’s, Ohio (July 16, 2003) – Facing an employee revolt against their mandatory union dues requirement, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 officials this week abandoned all claims to represent workers at the St. Mary’s Living Center and stated that it “no longer wishes to be a party” to the collective bargaining agreement they signed last year.
After having successfully fought for monopoly bargaining power from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the union signed a collective bargaining agreement last summer which included a mandatory dues requirement. Once in power, the union proved to be highly unpopular with rank-and-file employees.
Led by Judy Cooper, an employee at the St. Mary’s Living Center owned by Essex Healthcare Corporation, at least 30 percent of the workforce signed a petition to obtain an official deauthorization election, supervised by NLRB officials. If SEIU District 1199 union officials had lost the election, they would have been stripped of the power to seize compulsory dues. In that case they would only have been able to collect dues from employees who voluntarily chose to join the union.
Cooper first sought the deauthorization election when the union hierarchy showed that it was unresponsive to employee concerns, such as ignoring worker grievances. Cooper learned of her rights and received free legal assistance from attorneys with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. According to Cooper, the union hierarchy would have lost the election overwhelmingly.
“The actions of SEIU officials show they are more concerned with being able to seize money from workers than actually earning their support,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Since workers in Ohio do not yet enjoy the protections of a Right to Work law, a deauthorization election is the only way they can break the grip of compulsory unionism.”
In order to win a deauthorization election, employees need “yes” votes from an absolute majority of workers in the bargaining unit. The requirement for an absolute majority, set by the National Labor Relations Act, makes it more difficult for employees to prevail than under the requirement for certifying or decertifying a union, which requires only a majority of those voting.