Right to Work Foundation Asks NLRB to Enforce Cannabis Industry Workers’ Rights against State Schemes to Force them into Union Ranks
Several states are attempting to use industry licensing as a pretense to impose forced union dues on workers in violation of federal labor law
Washington, DC (March 19, 2020) – Today the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation called on National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Peter Robb to take action to protect workers subjected to forced unionism schemes interfering with workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) through state licensing requirements showing up in states.
A letter from Foundation Vice President and Legal Director Raymond LaJeunesse, Jr. seeks to bring the General Counsel’s attention to a “disturbing trend in state licensing regulation that, if left unchecked, will cause permanent damage to employees’ fundamental Section 7 rights under the National Labor Relations Act.”
The letter highlights how several states have already enacted schemes that infringe on the rights of employees in the medicinal cannabis industry. In New Jersey, for example, the law requires “a private sector employer to enter into a union bargaining agreement within 200 days of commencing operations” or forfeit their license to do business. Such a requirement does not allow employees to decide whether or not they would like to be represented by a union, a clear violation of their rights under the NLRA.
Other states like California and New York require cannabis employers to enter into so-called “labor peace agreements” (LPAs) as a condition of maintaining their license. These agreements violate workers’ privacy and also threaten their right to freely choose whether or not to join a union. In other states, including Pennsylvania and Illinois, state officials will give more “points” to cannabis license applicants who have LPAs, which is effectively preferential treatment for those businesses which have already chosen a union for their employees to work under. The states enacting these schemes have acted at the behest of several national labor unions, with the United Food and Commercial Workers being on the forefront of these forced unionism efforts.
The letter calls on the NLRB to act against these state and local governments whose regulations infringe on the rights of employees to join or not join labor organizations, and lays out the clear legal arguments that support challenging laws that violate the limited employee rights under the NLRA. It points out that such schemes are “directly contrary to the NLRA’s core principle that ‘under Section 9(a), the rule is that the employees pick the union; the union does not pick the employees.’”
In 2019, New Jersey amended its medicinal cannabis laws, requiring license applicants to sign “labor peace agreements.” According to the amended law, applicants must maintain and comply with an LPA as a condition of keeping their license. In addition, these private sector employers are forced to sign monopoly bargaining agreements within 200 days of opening, and if they do not, they lose the right to do business in the state. Essentially, the letter points out, “the state pressures employees to sign up for unionization solely to keep their employers afloat.”
Furthermore, the Foundation points out how New Jersey indirectly imposes monopoly representation on workers by giving priority to license applicants that already have agreements with union officials or who promise to use their “best efforts to utilize union labor in the construction or retrofit of the facilities associated with the permitted entity.”
The letter also points out that the NLRB has the clear authority to take action against such state activity that threatens the rights guaranteed to workers by the NLRA.
“The NLRB is tasked with protecting the rights of workers across the nation, including their right not to be coerced into union ranks. Our letter to NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb shows the pressing need for the agency to step in and take action against states and local governments who have passed laws that infringe on the rights of workers by mandating these businesses hand over their workers to union forced dues ranks,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix.
“Absent swift action from the NLRB to challenge these state laws that fly in the face of the National Labor Relations Act, you can be certain that Big Labor allied politicians across the country will soon seek to force workers in other states or industries into union forced dues ranks under the auspices of occupational licensing.”
Special Legal Notice for West Virginia Employees of AHF Products Issues by National Right to Work Foundation Staff Attorneys
Beverly, WV (March 16, 2020) – Amid reports of a strike called by Teamsters union officials, and due to requests for legal assistance that often accompany such union-instigated work stoppages, National Right to Work Legal Foundation staff attorneys have issued a special legal notice to workers at the AHF Products plant in Beverly, West Virginia.
The special legal notice outlines workers’ rights that union officials won’t share with them, and specifies what steps workers should take if they wish to exercise their right to work during the strike:
Teamster union officials have ordered AHF Products workers at the company’s Beverly, West Virginia plant to abandon their jobs and go on strike.
The situation raises serious concerns for workers who believe there is much to lose from engaging in a union-ordered strike.
Employees have the right under federal labor law to rebuff union officials’ strike demands, but it is important for you to be informed before you do so.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTINUE WORKING OR RETURN TO WORK DURING A STRIKE READ ALL OF THIS SPECIAL NOTICE BEFORE CROSSING A PICKET LINE TO WORK – IT MIGHT SAVE YOU THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS!
Read the complete legal notice here.
UCSD Workers Hit Union with Federal Class-Action Lawsuit for Seizing Union Dues in Violation of First Amendment
UC president Napolitano and California Attorney General Becerra named as defendants for facilitating policy to block university employees from exercising their rights
San Diego, CA (March 13, 2020) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, two UC San Diego Health employees filed a federal class action lawsuit against the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union and the University of California for seizing dues from their paychecks in violation of their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit states the dues seizures are unconstitutional under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. In Janus, the Court ruled that deducting union dues from any public sector worker’s paycheck without his or her “affirmative and knowing” consent infringes the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The class action lawsuit names University of California President Janet Napolitano as a defendant for the university system’s role in perpetrating this scheme. It also names California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as a defendant for the state’s enforcement of the illegal union dues policy.
The lawsuit brought by two Service Desk Analysts, Pablo Labarrere and Sam Doroudi, recounts that UC San Diego Health officials had made all new employees “believe that it was a condition of employment to either join the union as full members or pay forced fees as nonmembers” during a mandatory orientation session. New employees were given and told to sign “dues deduction authorization cards” which provided that union officials would continuously collect dues from each employee’s paycheck unless a revocation letter was sent in a 30-day window before the annual anniversary of signing the card.
According to the lawsuit, the authorization cards did not explain, as Janus requires, that public sector employees “have a First Amendment right not to subsidize the union and its speech” and that signing the card would waive those rights. Labarrere and Doroudi eventually discovered their First Amendment Janus rights independently and sent letters to UPTE officials in December 2019 demanding that dues deductions be cut off. UPTE agents rebuffed both letters and continued to seize dues from Labarrere’s and Doroudi’s paychecks, ostensibly because they did not submit their requests within the “escape period” created by the union bosses.
The lawsuit contends that UPTE bosses are violating Labarrere’s and Doroudi’s First Amendment Janus rights by continuing to take dues from their paychecks without ever having received their “affirmative authorization and knowing waiver” of those rights. It also argues that the 30-day “escape period” illegally restricts Labarrere and Doroudi in the exercise of their Janus rights.
The class action lawsuit also seeks to stop UPTE bosses and the University of California system from enforcing the scheme against any other workers, and require UPTE officials to return all dues and fees to any member of the workplace that had their First Amendment rights violated under the policy.
Just last year, Ventura County Community College District math professor Michael McCain won a settlement in a similar class action lawsuit, also with free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union officials illegally attempted to restrict the time period in which McCain and his colleagues could exercise their Janus rights and cut off dues payments. Instead of facing Foundation staff attorneys in court, AFT officials settled the case and paid refunds to workers who had dues seized because of the illegal policy.
Foundation staff attorneys have litigated about forty Janus-related cases around the country for workers following the 2018 landmark Supreme Court case, which was argued and won by a National Right to Work Foundation staff attorney. Ten of those cases have settled favorably with relief for the plaintiff employees.
“The Supreme Court made it absolutely clear in Janus that union officials violate public workers’ First Amendment rights when they seize union dues without their consent,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Yet over a year and a half after the decision, California union bosses – with the assistance of state officials – continue to subject the state’s public servants to schemes that violate these rights, all to fill union coffers with more illegal dues.”
Worker Advocate Files Brief for Flight Attendant Backing Rule Change for Voting Out Unwanted Airline & Railroad Unions
Brief opposes union lawsuit challenging rule eliminating overly complex procedure for workers seeking to decertify an unwanted union
Washington, D.C. (March 12, 2020) – The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed an amicus brief in United States District Court for a flight attendant opposing an effort led by the AFL-CIO to overturn a recent rule by the National Mediation Board (NMB) that simplifies the process for workers seeking to vote out a union they oppose.
Foundation staff attorneys filed the amicus brief for Allegiant Airlines flight attendant Steven Stoecker to defend the NMB’s rule removing decertification election barriers. The brief was also filed for the Foundation itself, which has provided free legal representation to numerous workers under the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which the NMB is charged with enforcing.
Previously, to remove an unwanted union the NMB required an unnecessarily complex process in which workers had to create and solicit support for a fake “straw man” just to vote out the incumbent union. Under the NMB’s new rules finalized in July, workers can simply petition for a direct vote to decertify a union they oppose by a majority of the workers in their bargaining unit.
Stoecker, whose employment is governed by the RLA, attempted from 2014 to 2016 to remove the Transport Workers Union (TWU) from its monopoly bargaining status in his workplace, but those attempts ultimately failed when he lost his “straw man” election. The TWU is currently still the monopoly bargaining representative over his workplace.
“The National Mediation Board’s Final Rule simplifies the union selection or rejection process under the Railway Labor Act and erases nonstatutory barriers that hinder employees’ efforts to freely choose or reject a representative,” the amicus brief reads. “In response, the Plaintiffs, a group of labor unions that benefit from the complexities of the straw man decertification process, challenge the Final Rule and the Board’s statutory authority to establish it.”
Before the NMB issued the final rule last year, workers like Stoecker had to sign authorization cards designating an employee to be the “strawman” even though that employee had no intention of representing the unit. In the election that followed, the ballot options included the name of the union workers wished to decertify, the name of the straw man applicant, e.g., “John Smith,” the option for a write-in candidate and, confusingly, the option for “no union.”
Under the old guidelines, workers who voted for either the straw man or “no union” in hopes to oust union officials would unknowingly be splitting the vote opposed to unionization, as votes counted for these options were not tallied together but separately. The NMB’s final rule allows workers to vote out union representatives directly, without the cumbersome prior rules.
“That union bosses are suing the National Mediation Board for adopting this common-sense reform shows they are far more concerned with maintaining their power than respecting the right of rank-and-file workers to decide whether or not they actually want to remain in union ranks,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation has long advocated this type of change in the union decertification process. We are pleased the NMB has – as we called upon it to do in comments filed last year – finally made this commonsense reform.”
“Ultimately the Railway Labor Act has many fundamental problems that require legislative action, not the least of which is that it grants union bosses the power to have workers fired for nonpayment of union dues or fees even in states with Right to Work laws,” observed Mix. “That makes it all the more important that while we wait for more sweeping reforms, workers are not trapped in forced dues ranks simply because of the unnecessarily complex ‘straw man’ decertification process.”
St. Elmo ConAgra Worker Wins Settlement in Case Charging UFCW Union Officials with Illegal Intimidation and Forced Dues Demands
Settlement: Union bosses must cease telling workers that they could face imprisonment for exercising rights and that workers must provide social security numbers for dues deductions
St. Elmo, IL (March 12, 2020) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a worker at the St. Elmo, Illinois, ConAgra Foods facility has won a settlement in his case against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 union.
The employee, Tracy May, charged UFCW officials with falsely telling workers that union membership was required as a condition of employment at the plant, and with leaving employees in the dark about their rights to refrain from formal union membership and pay only the amount of union dues directly related to bargaining purposes. The settlement was approved by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 14 in St. Louis.
The settlement requires UFCW union officials to fully inform employees of their rights to both abstain from union membership and pay reduced dues, and also to give employees “information setting forth the percentage of the reduction in dues and fees charged to” those who are not union members, including the basis for the calculation of that percentage. UFCW officials also must stop telling “employees that they are required to provide their social security number” to have dues deducted from their paychecks, and that “filing charges with the NLRB could result in imprisonment.”
May filed his unfair labor practice charge against UFCW officials in October 2019. His charge contended that union bosses had been “telling employees that joining the union and/or paying dues is a condition of employment” since they finalized a monopoly bargaining contract with ConAgra.
The charge also noted that he and his coworkers were never “given valid, written, and adequate notice” of their right to abstain from union membership as per the NLRB v. General Motors Supreme Court decision, and their right to pay only union fees directly related to bargaining as per the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision. UFCW officials had also never given them an independent audit of the union’s expenses, a disclosure required under Beck.
Because Illinois has not enacted Right to Work protections for employees, union bosses can have private sector workers fired for not paying fees to a union. However, union officials can only require workers to pay the portion of dues allowed by Beck and must follow Beck procedures before seizing such forced fees from workers who are not union members.
UFCW Local 881 bosses were the target of litigation by employees at the St. Elmo ConAgra plant just last year, when the bosses attempted to block a petition for a vote to remove the union that was submitted by employee Robert Gentry, also with free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys.
In that case, union bosses initially claimed that a settlement they had earlier negotiated with ConAgra should have nullified the decertification effort, as per the NLRB’s non-statutory “settlement bar” which gives unions immunity from decertification efforts for a period of time after a settlement is reached between an employer and a union. They also filed “blocking charges” against ConAgra in another attempt to hold up the vote. The Regional Director initially let UFCW bosses stop the vote, but the full NLRB in Washington overturned that decision and ordered the Region to let the vote proceed.
“Although Mr. May’s victory is certainly good news, UFCW bosses continue to demonstrate a disturbing practice of disregarding the rights of the very workers they claim to represent,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Because Illinois lacks a Right to Work law ensuring all worker payments to unions are strictly voluntary, union bosses have every incentive to demand union dues from workers beyond what the law permits.”
Mix added, “Under Right to Work laws like those in effect in 27 states, the decision to join or pay fees to a union is fully in the hands of individual employees, and union bosses must use persuasion – not coercion or deception – to secure the support of those they claim to represent.”
Flight Attendant Files Lawsuit Against Transport Workers Union and Allegiant Air Challenging Illegal Forced Union Fees Provision
Complaint filed with National Right to Work Foundation legal aid says stripping flight attendant of input into work schedule violates plain language of federal labor law
Las Vegas, NV (March 11, 2020) – Flight attendant Ali Bahreman has filed a federal lawsuit against Allegiant Air and Transport Workers Union of America Local 577 (TWU) for illegally punishing him for choosing not to pay union dues or fees.
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on Bahremans’s behalf on March 2nd. It alleges that because the Railway Labor Act (RLA) does not allow businesses and union officials to enforce “union security” agreements except by firing an employee, Allegiant and TWU violated the law by removing his “bidding” privileges, which allow him to determine his work schedule.
Bahreman chose not to become a member of TWU or pay forced union fees, and on September 3, 2019, Allegiant notified him that his bidding privileges were suspended because he had not paid any union fees. Bidding privileges allows flight attendants to pick their schedule in order to plan preferred trips, vacations and days off. Consequently, Bahreman is now unable to choose what hours he wants to work and has almost no control over his schedule.
The lawsuit charges that Allegiant and TWU unlawfully punished Bahreman by removing his bidding privileges, which violates the RLA’s requirement for what is a lawful forced dues clause. The lawsuit argues that under the RLA, firing workers is the only way that unions and employers are able to enforce “union security” agreements, thus the discipline against Bahreman is unlawful.
The monopoly bargaining agreement between TWU and Allegiant stipulates that any employee who does not pay union fees will “lose all of her/his bidding privileges.” But the RLA says that unions and employers are only allowed to make agreements “as a condition of continued employment.” Under the plain language of the RLA, other punishments are not allowed.
Foundation staff attorneys are asking the Court to restore Bahreman’s bidding privileges, declare that the monopoly bargaining agreement between Allegiant and TWU violates the RLA and prevent TWU and Allegiant from enforcing the unlawful “union security” agreement.
Although Bahreman lives in Nevada which has a Right to Work law protecting workers against being forced to fund a union, the RLA preempts state Right to Work laws. This means that even in states where union payments are strictly voluntary for all other workers, railway and airline employees covered by the RLA can still be forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment.
“Workers shouldn’t have to worry about losing essential privileges in their workplace or have to fear losing their job for simply choosing not to support union bosses with their hard-earned money,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “That the Railway Labor Act prevents state Right to Work laws from protecting workers from forced union dues is a significant reason why a National Right to Work law is needed to ensure all workers have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to fund a labor union.”
“Perhaps Allegiant Airlines understood that forcing a worker to pay union fees or else be fired is just plain wrong, which is why they resisted union demands for a full forced dues clause and instead settled on this ultimately unlawful provision,” observed Mix. “Having apparently recognized that forced dues are unfair to workers, the airline should just abandon the illegal provision at the center of this lawsuit and not replace it with anything so every employee covered by the contract is fully free to decide whether or not to financially support the union.”
Victory in this case could open the door to hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds for other government employees
Washington, DC (March 9, 2020) – Today, attorneys representing Mark Janus are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the continuation of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 31. Janus is asking the Court to require AFSCME to repay the thousands of dollars in fees the union took from his paycheck in violation of his First Amendment rights.
Mark Janus is a former child support specialist for Illinois state government who brought the original Janus v. AFSCME lawsuit with representation from Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that it is illegal to force public employees to subsidize a union. The Court recognized that compelling public workers to pay fees to a union violates their First Amendment rights.
As a result of Janus, more than five million public sector employees across the country are no longer required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. However, Janus’ case continues as he seeks the return of the fees that AFSCME seized from his paycheck without his permission from March 23, 2013 to June 27, 2018, representing the two-year statute of limitations from the date his case started in March 2015 through the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in his favor.
“The Supreme Court agreed that the union taking money from nonmembers was wrong but the union still has the money it illegally garnished from my paycheck,” said Mark Janus, plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME. “It’s time for AFSCME to give me back the money they wrongfully took.”
Another favorable ruling in the case could have a massive impact, setting a federal precedent that would be controlling in dozens of other cases seeking refunds of dues taken unlawfully by public sector union bosses.
“Mark Janus is just one of many public employees whose money was illegally taken by government unions,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “Workers across the country are rightfully asking for their money back. It is time for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue and finally hold unions accountable for their years of unconstitutional behavior.”
Attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Foundation are currently litigating more than 30 Janus-related cases, including seven jointly, that collectively seek over $120 million in refunds for government workers.
Janus’ current petition comes after a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled in 2019 that AFSCME officials could keep the union fees seized from his paycheck.
“The Supreme Court has already sided with Mark Janus and ruled that forcing public employees to fund union activities violates the First Amendment, but almost two years later, he and countless public servants across the country are still awaiting the return of their hard-earned dollars that were taken from them in violation of their rights,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Supreme Court should follow its clear logic from the original Janus decision and take this case again to ensure that public sector union bosses are not permitted to profit from their widespread violation of workers’ rights.”
Five Westerly, RI Reserve Officers Win Over $110,000 in Lawsuits Challenging Illegal Forced Union Dues Scheme and Retaliation
Settlements include reinstatement of two officers fired after publicly challenging unlawful “$5 per hour” forced union dues scheme
Westerly, RI (March 4, 2020) – Westerly, Rhode Island-based police officers Scott Ferrigno, Darrell Koza, Raymond Morrone, Anthony Falcone, and Thomas Cimalore have just won favorable settlements in their cases challenging a forced union dues scheme between police union bosses and Town of Westerly officials. The officers also won favorable settlements for retaliation claims they brought after publicly challenging the unlawful arrangement.
With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Rhode Island-based Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights, the five officers filed their federal lawsuit in July 2015 against the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 503 (IBPO) union and the Town of Westerly for seizing their money under an illegal “$5 per hour” forced union fee scheme.
The Town of Westerly and IBPO subjected the officers to this scheme despite them not being IBPO members or in a monopoly bargaining unit under the IBPO’s power. The officers’ now-settled cases also asserted that Town officials unconstitutionally retaliated against the officers, after they publicly voiced opposition to the policy, by implementing a plan to restrict their hours, and even firing two of the officers, Koza and Ferrigno.
Under the settlements, IBPO and the Town of Westerly agreed to pay almost $65,000 in refunds of union dues seized from the officers as part of the illegal policy and compensation for the officers’ other claims. The Town of Westerly will also reinstate Officers Koza and Ferrigno as police officers and they will receive nearly $48,000 in back pay from the Town for the period after they were terminated.
According to the lawsuits, IBPO bosses and the Town of Westerly began seizing $5 per hour from each of the five officers’ hourly pay without authorization in April 2014. IBPO and the Town perpetrated this scheme against the officers even though they were classified as “nonpermanent police officers” outside of the IBPO’s monopoly bargaining power.
Union officials didn’t even claim to “represent” the officers but still siphoned $5 per hour out of their paychecks without obtaining each officer’s written consent and authorization. The complaints also noted that the Town of Westerly and IBPO started seizing forced union fees from the officers even before executing the contract that formally established the unlawful deductions, and despite knowing that the officers were outside of the bargaining unit and had never authorized any payment of any money to the union.
Over the next six months, the officers repeatedly sought meetings with Town officials in an attempt to stop the flow of illegal dues, including the Town of Westerly’s payroll department, the Westerly Chief of Police, the Town Manager, and the Town Council, only to be rebuffed. Koza’s and Ferrigno’s lawsuits noted that Westerly’s Chief of Police had warned the officers “not to seek publicity for their cause” and that, if they were terminated, they could “easily be replaced with twenty other constables.” Court documents note that the IBPO informed the chief of police in an October 1, 2014 memo that the union would no longer allow reserve officers to work private duty detail assignments.
The Reserve Officers finally managed to present their objections to the Town Council, but the Town refused to stop the compulsory fees. On October 20, 2014, within a week of hearing that the reserve officers arranged a meeting with the Town Council to argue their objections to the forced fee scheme, the chief emailed the Town Manager informing her of his plan to terminate Koza and revise the system by which Westerly reserve officers could sign up to work traffic details. The chief revised the system and downgraded reserve officers’ priority level for taking on new traffic detail assignments, which, the five officers argued, limited the hours they could work and the pay they could earn.
Records disclosed during the litigation revealed that when the Town Council met with the Town Manager, chief of police, IBPO representatives, and other officials in November 2014, and discussed the reserve officers’ fight against the $5 per hour scheme and whether the Town might be in any legal jeopardy, one official opined, “It’s going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars … They’d have to take this money out of their pockets. I don’t think [their attorney] is going to represent them for free.” Another Town official at the time asserted, “If we say no, they’re probably going to back down.” When the officials considered whether the reserve officers would keep working for the Town, one council member commented, “They can always go to McDonald’s.”
In November 2014, the Westerly Sun published an article on the officers’ dispute with the Town and Union. The Town fired Koza the following month. Koza had never been disciplined by the Town before these events. But, according to Koza’s lawsuit, the Town attempted to justify his termination on the grounds that he had not immediately left his position directing traffic in a busy intersection to move his police cruiser for an officer attempting to drive through a restricted lane. The Town also cited Koza’s calling himself a “police officer” rather than a “reserve police officer” in his application for a handgun carry permit. Koza’s lawsuit points out that the Town’s charter then gave “nonpermanent police officers” like Koza the powers of regular police officers while on duty, and all of Koza’s references in his application called him a “reserve officer,” “reserve police officer,” and “reserve officer with the Westerly Police Department.”
The Town fired Ferrigno in May 2016. According to Ferrigno’s lawsuit, the Town alleged that he left a bicycle race detail assignment early. But Ferrigno contended that he actually stayed five minutes later than he was instructed to by his supervisor while waiting for his replacement to arrive. As further evidence that his firing was unconstitutional retaliation, Ferrigno’s lawsuit also noted that the officer who arrived late to relieve him was a union official, who was never even disciplined for his lateness.
The five officers filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, arguing that IBPO and Town of Westerly officials had violated their First Amendment rights by forcing them to financially support the union when they were not even covered by its monopoly bargaining contract. The officers’ lawsuit also alleged that Town officials seized union dues without their individual written authorization in violation of Rhode Island’s wage deduction laws.
The lawsuit contended that the Town’s retaliation infringed on the officers’ First Amendment right to engage in “constitutionally-protected speech,” namely their advocacy against the illegal dues deductions. Officers Koza and Ferrigno filed their own complaints in the same court, charging the Town with firing them for exercising their First Amendment rights. The lawsuits also sought punitive damages.
Ultimately, rather than face the officers and their attorneys at trial, Town and Union officials agreed to settle the cases. The settlements order union officials to compensate the officers almost $20,000 dollars and Town officials to pay $45,000 for dues that were seized illegally under the “$5 per hour” policy and for other damages and claims. The settlements in Koza’s and Ferrigno’s cases, on top of requiring the Town to reinstate the two officers and pay back wages, require that all references related to the discipline forming the basis of their lawsuits be removed from their personnel records.
On February 6, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island entered a consent judgment permanently enjoining IBPO Local 503 from “adopting or enforcing any compulsory union fee requirement upon any constable or reserve officer employed by or performing work for the Town of Westerly without first obtaining his or her voluntary and affirmative consent and authorization, and his or her knowing and intelligent waiver of constitutional rights.”
Officer Thomas Cimalore commented, “The Town and the IBPO could have avoided the years and expense of litigation if they had only listened in 2014 when we first tried to tell them that they cannot just take $5 per hour from our pay and give it to the Union without our permission. We did all we could to avoid bringing a lawsuit. We made repeated unsuccessful attempts to present these issues to the sitting Town Council.”
Officer Cimalore continued: “When we did finally get the opportunity to address these issues to the sitting Town Council and to their successors on the following council, we showed them that deducting the $5 per hour violates the U.S. Constitution and state law. We had attorneys send letters explaining our rights, hoping that would make progress. But all of those efforts were to no avail. After unsuccessfully trying more than a year to resolve the matter, we were forced to go to federal court. We are happy the Town and the union finally decided to do the right thing.”
“Officers Ferrigno, Koza, Morrone, Falcone, and Cimalore fought a years-long legal battle against union officials just so they could keep their community safe while maintaining their own rights,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to stand with them and all public servants who are targeted with intimidation, misinformation, threats of firing, and other illegal tactics simply to keep dues money flowing into the bank accounts of self-interested union officials.”
“Although the dues scheme at issue in these cases was always blatantly illegal, the fact is, while this case was being litigated the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME decision was issued, which now guarantees all public workers a First Amendment right not to subsidize union officials’ activities,” continued Mix. “Even with the added protection provided by the Janus decision, Rhode Island legislators should look to these and other examples of union boss malfeasance as examples of why all Ocean State workers – public or private – need Right to Work protections to ensure that union membership and financial support are strictly voluntary.”
Milwaukee Worker Files Federal Charges Against Teamsters Union for Violating His Rights under State and Federal Law
NLRB Charge: Despite Right to Work law, union bosses coerced worker into becoming a union member and then blocked attempts to cut off dues payments
Milwaukee, WI (March 3, 2020) – With free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, an employee at a Milwaukee factory has filed federal charges against Teamsters “General” Local Union No. 200 for violating his rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Wisconsin’s Right to Work law.
Tyler Lewis, employed by Snap-on Logistics Company, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after union officials told him that he must become a union member and pay membership dues as a condition of employment in violation of longstanding federal law.
Teamsters union officials further refused to allow Lewis to stop union dues from being seized from his paycheck even after he learned of his rights and resigned his union membership in September 2019. Moreover, union officials continue to deduct dues from his paycheck and refuse to refund Lewis any of the dues unlawfully seized from him.
Forcing workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment is prohibited under Wisconsin’s Right to Work law, which went into effect in March 2015. However, union officials continued to accept and retain union dues seized from Lewis because they claimed he could only cut off union dues deductions during a narrow union-created “window period.” Even as they made that claim, they failed to provide Lewis with specific dates when his request would be accepted under their rules.
As his charge details, the union monopoly bargaining agreement in Lewis’ workplace, which was signed after the state Right to Work law went into effect, contained language prohibited by the Right to Work law that workers must pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Moreover, even if the agreement was actually in place prior to the law’s effective date, Lewis’ Foundation-provided attorneys state in the filing that the passage of the Right to Work law invalidated the union’s claim that Lewis’ right to stop dues payments was limited to a brief union window period.
“Once again, Teamsters union bosses are using coercive tactics to force workers they claim to ‘represent’ to pay union dues and fees against their wishes,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Wisconsin’s Right to Work law should mean union membership and dues payment are strictly voluntary, but rather than respect workers’ rights and work to win their uncoerced support, union bosses are again attempting to trap workers in forced dues in violation of federal law.”