Southwest Ohio School Employee Hits OAPSE Union with Charges for Illegally Seizing Union Dues
Union officials misled worker and ignored revocation request in attempt to deduct dues for entire school year over employee’s clear objection
Cincinnati, OH (February 10, 2023) – Southwest Public Schools employee Richard Koch has filed charges against the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4) union, telling the Ohio State Employee Relations Board (SERB) that union officials have unlawfully locked him into an entire school year of union dues deductions against his will. Staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation represent him for free.
Koch, who is not a union member, charges that OAPSE union bosses are arbitrarily restricting the time in which school employees can exercise their right to cut off union dues deductions to less than 3% of the year. He further explains that OAPSE officials continue seizing dues from any employee who misses the tiny, unilaterally-imposed “window period” to opt out of dues deductions, rather than acknowledging the request and effectuating it at the next “window period.”
Koch argues that state law prohibits OAPSE officials’ behavior, including the Ohio statute protecting public employees’ right to “refrain from forming, joining, assisting, or participating in” a union. Public employees also have a First Amendment right under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision to refrain from paying union dues to a union they oppose.
OAPSE Union Officials Force School Employee to Pay Entire School Year’s Worth of Dues Despite Resignation
Koch sent a letter to OAPSE union officials on June 4, 2022, resigning his union membership and requesting that dues deductions from his paycheck cease. A union official replied to Koch later that month, telling him that his request to stop dues was “untimely,” but not informing him of the appropriate time in which to submit a revocation request.
After the 2022-2023 school year began, OAPSE union officials continued to take full union dues from his wages. Koch questioned school officials about why dues deductions were continuing despite his resignation. In October 2022, five months after Koch sent his resignation letter, a school administrator forwarded him an email from OAPSE representative John Horn explaining that union dues revocation requests are only accepted within a narrow 10-day window each year.
No union official informed Koch of this restriction, and at the time Koch indirectly found out about it, the “window period” (which was in August) had already passed. The union is now attempting to illegally seize dues from his paycheck for an entire school year instead of simply honoring Koch’s revocation request.
In addition to illegally restraining his right to abstain from union activities, Koch argues, OAPSE union bosses also violated Ohio law by deliberately concealing the actual dates in which he could cut off dues, and by not telling the school to stop taking dues from his paycheck, despite their knowledge of his desire to stop paying.
Foundation President: OAPSE Union Officials Value Dues Revenue Over Employees’ Rights
Koch seeks to stop all dues deductions from his paycheck, and force OAPSE union officials to return all dues seized illegally from his paycheck since he sent in his resignation letter. If Koch’s case is successful, it could set a precedent requiring Ohio union officials to honor every revocation request.
“Mr. Koch’s case shows that OAPSE union officials don’t even pretend to care about the rights of workers who disagree with them, and will readily violate those rights if it means the union can fill its coffers with more of those employees’ money,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Beyond blatantly violating Ohio law, OAPSE union officials are also ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court’s First Amendment command in the Janus v. AFSCME decision that union officials can only take union dues from workers who have affirmatively consented to support the union.”
Foundation attorneys scored a significant victory for Ohio public servants’ Janus rights in a 2020 lawsuit against another Ohio AFSCME affiliate, Council 11. Rather than face off against Foundation attorneys, those AFSCME union officials backed down and settled the case. As a result, Foundation attorneys freed almost 30,000 Ohio public employees from a “maintenance of membership” scheme that limited the exercise of Janus rights to roughly once every three years.
National Right to Work Foundation Submits Comments Blasting Biden NLRB’s Rule to Trap Workers in Unions They Oppose
Biden National Labor Relations Board plans to overturn Election Protection Rule, undermining workers’ statutory right to vote whether to remove unpopular unions
Washington, DC (February 3, 2023) – The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has just submitted comments opposing the Biden National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) proposed rule to re-impose several onerous restrictions on workers. The rule is designed to, once again, trap private sector workers under the so-called “representation” of a union opposed by a majority of employees in a workplace.
The slated rule changes will overturn the Election Protection Rule, which the NLRB adopted in 2020 after the Foundation advocated for the elimination of several non-statutory policies that union officials often manipulate to avoid being voted out of a workplace by employees. The current comments opposing the changes rely on the Foundation’s unique perspective as the leading organization providing free legal aid to private-sector workers who face obstacles to exercising their right to vote on whether to remove an incumbent union (known as “decertification” elections).
“The Foundation is uniquely situated to comment on and oppose these rules, as its staff attorneys have represented individual decertification petitioners in many of the leading cases in this area of the law,” the comments say. “Foundation lawyers provide pro bono representation in a large percentage of the Board’s current decertification cases. To take just one recent snapshot, Foundation staff attorneys represent approximately 50% of the employees who filed decertification petitions in the month of December 2022.”
Biden NLRB Rule Change Will Let Union Officials Use “Blocking Charges” to Delay Elections
The Foundation’s comments explain that, if the Election Protection Rule is tossed, union officials will again be able to exploit often-unproven allegations of employer behavior to cancel employee-requested union decertification votes. Prior to the 2020 reforms, union officials could often stall a decertification vote for months or even years by filing so-called “blocking charges.”
The 2020 Election Protection Rule overturned the “blocking charge” policy, so workers now are allowed in most cases to cast ballots in a decertification vote before the NLRB deals with any allegations surrounding the election. If the Rule is jettisoned, workers would be blocked from even voting, let alone having their votes counted, any time union officials conjure up claims of workplace malfeasance.
“The bottom line is this: the former blocking charge policy incentivized [union officials] to file meritless or even frivolous unfair labor practice charges because they know the election will be delayed,” the comments say.
Foundation staff attorneys have provided legal assistance to many workers faced with “blocking charges.” Notably, the Foundation assisted a group of Alaskan bus drivers who were freed in December 2019 from an unpopular Teamsters union after three years of attempts to remove it. One employee in that situation commented to the NLRB shortly before the adoption of the Election Protection Rule that the NLRB’s continued blocking of the election based on the Teamsters’ unfair labor practice charges was “the most unfair and anti-democratic event” with which he had ever been involved.
Abuse-Prone “Card Check” Drives Likely to Become Irrebuttable
The Biden NLRB’s slated elimination of the Election Protection Rule will also block workers from filing for secret-ballot decertification elections to challenge so-called “card check” drives. A “card check” is a process in which union officials claim majority support among employees in a workplace based solely on authorization cards signed by employees and submitted by union officials, bypassing the election process entirely. The cards’ indication of true majority status is dubious as union agents may collect them directly from workers and often use threatening or intimidating tactics to do so.
The Election Protection Rule added a check to the misnamed “voluntary recognition bar,” a non-statutory policy that blocked workers from filing for a secret-ballot decertification election for a year after a union was installed via “card check.” The Election Protection Rule instead provided workers the ability to challenge a “card check” by petitioning for a secret-ballot vote, a theory first espoused in the Foundation-won 2007 Dana Corp. NLRB decision. If the Election Protection Rule is scrapped, the “voluntary recognition bar” would return.
Barring worker-submitted union decertification petitions “only shields what may well be a minority union from challenge” and “destroys employees’ [statutory] rights,” the comments assert.
Construction Workers Could Be Unionized with No Evidence of Majority Support
The comments finally warn that, if the Election Protection Rule is removed, construction workers would be exposed to unilateral attempts by union bosses and employers to impose union monopoly power with absolutely no evidence of majority employee support. The comments explain that these arrangements defy federal labor law and lay waste to employee free choice rights: “To cavalierly defer to unproven employer and labor organization assertions concerning employees’ exercise of their rights is akin to a farmer putting two foxes in charge of guarding his henhouse.”
Foundation staff attorneys represented a victim of such a scheme in Colorado Fire Sprinkler, Inc., a case that ended when a U.S. DC Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled that the company’s workers were unlawfully unionized despite no evidence of majority employee support for the union.
“The move to eliminate the Election Protection Rule will re-impose arbitrary policies that trample workers’ rights and allow union bosses to maintain power despite the overwhelming opposition of rank-and-file workers,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Biden NLRB, now stocked with former union lawyers, is putting on full display that its priorities lie with top DC union brass, not rank-and-file American workers.”
Federal Labor Board to Prosecute Kentucky Steelworkers Union for Threatening, Seizing Money from Northern KY Worker
Former Duro Hilex Poly employee filed charges against union and employer in 2022, National Labor Relations Board complaints affirm employee allegations
Erlanger, KY (January 31, 2023) – Melva Hernandez, a former employee of paper bag manufacturer Duro Hilex Poly in Erlanger, KY, has scored a victory in her federal case charging United Steelworkers (USW) Local 832 union officials and her employer with taking dues money from her paycheck illegally. Hernandez is receiving free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation attorneys.
In response to federal charges Hernandez filed in July 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has begun prosecuting the USW union. A complaint issued January 25 by the NLRB asserts union officials violated federal labor law by seizing money from Hernandez’s paycheck after she ended her union membership, and by threatening her after she told other employees about how to exercise their right to resign from the union.
Hernandez’s July 2022 charges also contended that “escape period” limitations USW officials used to restrict when workers could end dues deductions are not enforceable under federal law.
In Kentucky and 26 other states with Right to Work protections, union membership and union financial support are strictly voluntary and the choice of each individual worker. In states lacking such protections, union bosses can demand that workers under their control pay union “fees” as a condition of keeping their jobs. The Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet Secretary could decide to separately prosecute the USW union for breaching Kentucky’s Right to Work law.
Union Officials Forced Duro Employee into Membership & Dues Payment, Sought to Ban Speech Critical of Union
Hernandez worked at Duro Hilex Poly from 2011 until 2022. Her July 2022 charge explained that she first submitted a letter to union officials in August 2021 exercising her right to end her union membership and all dues deductions to the union. A union agent rejected her request, alleging that it would only be accepted within a so-called “escape period” created by union officials.
The complaint says Hernandez resubmitted her request in April 2022 on a date falling within the union-concocted “escape period,” only to be redirected by union agents to USW Local 832 President Tara Purnhagen.
After Hernandez tendered her resignation to Purnhagen, “Ms. Purnhagen scolded and harassed me, accusing me of trying to convince my fellow co-workers to drop their union memberships,” Hernandez’s charges say. Purnhagen also forbade Hernandez from discussing with her coworkers reasons to refrain from union membership. Until Hernandez quit her job at Duro Hilex Poly, USW officials continued taking money unlawfully from her paycheck.
Her charges argued that union officials’ actions infringed on her rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects the right of workers to abstain from union activities if they choose, and not be retaliated against by union officials for exercising or advocating that right.
NLRB Complaint States Union Committed Multiple Rights Violations
The NLRB’s complaint affirms that USW union officials broke federal labor law by taking dues from her paycheck “notwithstanding the absence of an employee authorization for the deductions and remittance,” and by threatening Hernandez and other employees who exercised their right to leave the union or talked about doing so.
However, on the dues deduction issue, the NLRB’s complaint only seeks to prosecute USW bosses for money seized from Hernandez’s paycheck after she opted out of the union the second time, within the union’s so-called “escape period.” Hernandez filed an appeal to the NLRB in Washington, DC, contending that her first attempt should have stopped the flow of dues, because the restriction is unenforceable.
“It’s outrageous that the only way Ms. Hernandez could escape the predatory dues practices of Steelworkers union officials was to quit and find another job entirely,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Although it’s encouraging that the NLRB is finally taking action against Steelworkers officials’ patently illegal behavior, rank-and-file workers should not have to file federal cases, let alone quit their jobs, simply to preserve their freedom of association.”
National Right to Work Foundation Slams Biden FLRA Move to Restrict Federal Employees’ Right to Stop Union Dues
Foundation comments expose flimsy statutory foundations of proposed rule, also show it violates federal workers’ First Amendment Janus rights
Washington, DC (January 25, 2023) – The National Right to Work Foundation just filed comments at the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), opposing the agency’s plan to restrict federal employees’ right to stop unwanted union financial support for over 99 percent of the year.
The FLRA announced in December 2022 the proposed rule, which would rescind a 2020 regulation that permits federal employees to stop union dues deductions from their paychecks any time after one year from the date employees authorize such deductions. Foundation attorneys in 2020 filed comments supporting the current regulation that eliminated an FLRA-created limit on federal workers’ legal right to stop union payments.
The Foundation’s comments argue that the slated rule would return the FLRA to an incorrect interpretation of federal law in which dues deductions are “perpetually irrevocable for consecutive years,” except for one day to opt out between yearly periods. The Foundation points out that the statute simply says that dues deduction authorizations “may not be revoked for a period of 1 year,” (emphasis added) not multiple “periods,” which lets employees quit dues deductions any time after an initial yearlong period of irrevocability. Subsequent yearly restrictions, Foundation attorneys argue, are not supported by the statute.
Such a flawed interpretation would trap employees into subsidizing an entire year of unwanted union “representation” and expenditures merely because they miss the arbitrary one-day opt-out deadline. “The Authority will violate [federal law] if it . . . decrees that dues deduction assignments can be made irrevocable for multiple yearly periods,” the comments say.
Biden FLRA Rule Change Will Block Federal Employees’ First Amendment Janus Rights
The Foundation also points out that the 2020 rule lets federal employees exercise their First Amendment rights recognized in the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision to the greatest extent possible under the governing federal law. In Janus, the Court ruled that all American public sector workers have a First Amendment right to refrain from paying dues to an unwanted union, and that union dues deductions from a public sector worker’s paycheck can only occur with his or her affirmative consent.
If the Biden FLRA rescinds the 2020 rule and makes union dues deductions irrevocable for consecutive yearly periods, the federal government would be allowed to “disregard its employees’ wishes and continue to seize monies from their wages for a cause they oppose,” the comments read. That would be a blatant violation of the First Amendment principles recognized in Janus.
The 2020 rule instead sought to bring the dues deduction statute in line with Janus’ First Amendment standard “by construing the irrevocability period in [federal law] to be as short as possible,” the comments say.
The comments also refute union officials’ claims that rescinding the 2020 rules is necessary to maintain union financial interests and protect employee choice. The comments point out that union financial interests do not trump the right of workers to stop unwanted union financial support, and that eliminating the greater freedom to do so provided by the 2020 rule cannot possibly safeguard employee free choice.
“The Federal Labor Relations Authority, now stocked with union-label Biden appointees, is moving to limit the rights of rank-and-file workers just to give federal union bosses expanded powers to seize union dues over the objections of the workers they claim to represent,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “All American public sector workers have a First Amendment right under Janus to freely make this choice, and by changing the rules the FLRA will deliberately undermine the constitutional rights of the federal workforce.”
Pittsburgh-Area Teen Hits UFCW Union and Giant Eagle with Religious Discrimination and Unfair Labor Practice Charges
Union sought to interrogate teenage cashier over his religious beliefs after he asserted his rights and presented religious objections to supporting the union
Pittsburgh, PA (January 17, 2023) – North Huntingdon Giant Eagle employee Josiah Leonatti – a high school student – has filed federal discrimination charges against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776KS union. He maintains that union officials refused to consider his religious beliefs after he expressed religious objections to joining and paying dues to the union. Union officials, according to his charges, subjected him to an illegal “religion test” to determine whether his religious beliefs count.
Leonatti is receiving free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, who filed charges for him against the union at both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They also filed charges against Giant Eagle for firing him after he asked for a religious accommodation. Giant Eagle falsely told him that he must join the union to keep his job.
Leonatti charges that the UFCW union and Giant Eagle are breaching Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Title VII requires unions and employers to accommodate employees who have religious objections to joining or supporting a union. The NLRA also prohibits forced union membership regardless of a worker’s reason for not wanting to affiliate with a union. Leonatti’s Title VII claims will be investigated by the EEOC; the NLRB will handle his NLRA claims.
Pennsylvania’s lack of Right to Work protections means that union officials may force private sector workers in unionized workplaces, like Leonatti, to pay them fees or be fired. Under federal law, employees with religious objections cannot be compelled to pay such fees. Right to Work states broaden that protection; in Right to Work states, no worker can be fired for refusal to join or financially support a union no matter the reason for objecting to subsidizing union activities.
High School-Age Employee Dismissed After Presenting Religious Objection
Leonatti’s charges report that he attended employee training last year as a cashier trainee. There an official told new hires that they “must sign papers to join the United Food And Commercial Workers.” According to the NLRB charges, “No other options were even hinted at.”
After reviewing the papers with his family, Leonatti’s charges explain, he mailed a letter to UFCW officials detailing his sincere religious objections to joining and supporting the union. He also presented the same letter in person at training. Rather than accommodate his sincere religious beliefs, a company official “dismissed [Leonatti] from training and sent [him] home.” The same official later called Leonatti and told him that union membership is compulsory at Giant Eagle, and the grocery store had terminated him over his refusal to join.
UFCW officials also responded to Leonatti’s letter by mail on November 10, rejecting the written explanation of Leonatti’s religious objection and demanding he “complete its religious examination” before they even considered granting him an accommodation. Even if he passed this “test,” the charges say, union officials threatened that he would still have to pay an amount equal to full UFCW union dues to a charity.
A religious test is forbidden by federal law. The Supreme Court ruled in its 1981 Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division decision that “religious beliefs need not be…comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”
Leonatti’s father called Giant Eagle’s HR department, according to the charges, to gain more clarity. A Giant Eagle employee reiterated that employment depended on union membership. After missing several weeks of work because the store had terminated him, Leonatti got an email from Giant Eagle inviting him to return to work.
To date, however, no Giant Eagle agent ever offered or discussed a religious accommodation with Leonatti, and the union has not retracted its threats or agreed to accommodate.
Employee Seeks Re-Training for Accommodation-Denying Union Officials
Leonatti’s EEOC charges seek to compel the UFCW union and Giant Eagle to provide him a legally-required religious accommodation. In addition, the NLRB charges state that relief must include unit-wide information and corporate retraining, among other remedies.
“Union bosses’ attempt to coerce a high schooler to violate his religious beliefs is unconscionable, and illegal,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “We’re proud to support Mr. Leonatti as he defends his rights, but this should serve as a stark reminder that all Americans deserve Right to Work protections. Regardless of their particular reasons for not wanting to affiliate with a union, no employee’s job should hinge on whether he or she pays dues to a private organization.”
Flight Attendant Asks for Contempt Ruling Against Southwest for Violating Court Order Regarding Illegal Firing at Union’s Behest
District Court ordered Southwest to announce that airline may not discriminate on basis of religion; airline instead effectively denied wrongdoing despite jury verdict
Dallas, TX (January 9, 2023) – With free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation attorneys, Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter is seeking sanctions against Southwest for flouting the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas’ decision in her case. Carter sued both Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556 and Southwest in 2017 for firing her over opposing the union’s political stances – a violation of both the Railway Labor Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The District Court in December 2022 ordered Southwest and the union to give Carter the maximum amount of compensatory and punitive damages permitted under federal law, plus back-pay, and other forms of relief that a jury originally awarded following Carter’s victory in a July trial. The Court also mandated that Southwest reinstate Carter, ruling that only requiring Southwest and the TWU union to pay out future monetary damages to Carter “would complete Southwest’s unlawful scheme” of firing dissenting employees.
Carter’s latest motion calls on the District Court to impose sanctions against Southwest for releasing a misleading “Recent Court Decision” notice to its roughly 17,000 flight attendants, arguing that the notice papers over the airline’s significant rights violations found by the Court. The notice states that Southwest “does not discriminate” against its employees based on religious belief, despite the Court’s finding that Southwest did discriminate against Carter on religious grounds. The motion also says Southwest’s notice fails to make a court-ordered announcement that the airline is forbidden from discriminating in the future.
Foundation attorneys also contend that an “Inflight Information On The Go” memo the airline issued chills flight attendants’ religious expression, beliefs, and practices. The memo implies that Southwest will be the final arbiter of what kind of religious speech is acceptable in the workplace, while characterizing Carter’s speech challenging the TWU union’s political positions as “inappropriate, harassing, and offensive,” and thus worthy of punishment.
The motion asks the District Court to find the airline in contempt so it can issue monetary sanctions against Southwest, and further order the airline to immediately issue corrective notices.
Flight Attendant Called Out Union Officials for Their Political Activities
As a Southwest employee, Carter joined TWU Local 556 in September 1996. A pro-life Christian, she resigned her membership in September 2013 after learning that her union dues were being used to promote causes that violate her conscience and have nothing to do with her work.
Carter resigned from union membership, but was still forced to pay fees to TWU Local 556 as a condition of her employment. State Right to Work laws do not protect her and her fellow flight attendants from forced union fees because airline and railway employees are covered by the federal Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA allows union officials to have a worker fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees. But it does protect the rights of nonmembers of the union who are forced to associate with a union, including the rights to criticize the union and its leadership, and advocate for changing the union’s current leadership.
In January 2017, Carter learned that Audrey Stone, the union president, and other TWU Local 556 officials used union money to attend the “Women’s March on Washington D.C.,” which was sponsored by political groups she opposed, including Planned Parenthood.
Carter, a vocal critic of Stone and the union, took to social media to challenge Stone’s leadership and to express support for a recall effort that would remove Stone from power. Carter also sent Stone a message affirming her commitment to both the recall effort and a National Right to Work law after the union had sent an email to employees telling them to oppose Right to Work.
After Carter sent Stone that email, Southwest managers notified Carter that they needed to have a mandatory meeting as soon as possible about “Facebook posts they had seen.” During this meeting, Southwest presented Carter screenshots of her pro-life posts and messages and questioned why she made them.
Carter explained her religious beliefs and opposition to the union’s political activities. Carter said that, by participating in the Women’s March, President Stone and TWU Local 556 members purported to represent all Southwest flight attendants. Southwest authorities told Carter that President Stone claimed to be harassed by Carter’s messages. A week after this meeting, Southwest fired Carter.
Flight Attendant Wins Jury Verdict and District Court Decision
In 2017, Carter filed her federal lawsuit with help from Foundation staff attorneys to challenge the firing as an abuse of her rights, alleging she lost her job because of her religious beliefs, standing up to TWU Local 556 officials, and criticizing the union’s political activities and how it spent employees’ dues and fees. In July 2022, she won a federal jury verdict awarding millions of dollars in damages for Southwest’s and TWU’s violations of her rights, and in December 2022 the District Court issued its judgment in her favor.
“First, Southwest Airlines violated Charlene Carter’s rights by firing her at the union’s behest. Now, the airline is doubling down by misleading other workers about its wrongdoing in defiance of a federal court order,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Foundation attorneys will continue to defend Ms. Carter’s rights, and will ensure that Southwest’s attempts to dodge the requirements of the decision in her favor will not go unopposed.”