NLRB Certifies Mankato Mayo Clinic Nurses’ Vote to Oust MNA Union Officials, Rejects Union Boss Attempt to Overturn Vote
Nurses now free of both unwanted union monopoly ‘representation’ and forced union fee demands
Mankato, MN (August 18, 2022) – Mayo Clinic nurses’ vote to oust unwanted Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) union officials from their workplace has been certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in a decision that also rejected two union objections to the election. The nurses voted 213-181 in July to remove the MNA as their monopoly “representative.” Union officials attempted to not only overturn the result, but to prohibit the workers from even holding another decertificiation vote.
Nurse Brittany Burgess filed a petition in June with Region 18 of the NLRB for more than 200 of her coworkers requesting the election. She did so with free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.
Minnesota is not a Right to Work state, meaning Burgess and the nurses voting in the election at Mayo Clinic had been forced to pay fees to MNA union bosses they opposed just to keep their jobs. Now that the NLRB has certified the “decertification election” results, the nurses are free of both union officials’ forced-fee demands and the union’s control over their terms and conditions of employment.
NLRB Ruling Rejects Union Boss Objections to Election Entirely
NLRB Region 18’s decision and order certifying the vote rejected both arguments from MNA union officials that the vote should be overturned. Union officials claimed a sample ballot circulated by workers opposed to the union didn’t contain legally-required disclaimers about the neutrality of the NLRB. The officials also made vague allegations that other conduct somehow improperly swayed the employees’ choice.
The NLRB election certification order explains that a reviewed photo of the sample ballot “clearly contains the disclaimer language.” The order also declares that the union’s objection to other conduct is not only too “nonspecific” to be meet the NLRB’s standards, but further states that the conduct it alludes to would not rise to the level of invalidating an employee vote anyway.
Though MNA union officials’ attempt to upend the Mayo Clinic vote was particularly vacuous, Burgess and her coworkers were guarded from even more arbitrary union delays thanks to Foundation-advocated reforms to union decertification rules adopted by the NLRB in 2020. Before the reforms, union officials could file “blocking charges” to stop a vote to oust a union from even commencing. Such charges often contained allegations of employer conduct that were both unproven and unrelated to the employees’ desire to get rid of the union.
Unfortunately, the Biden NLRB announced in June it was initiating rulemaking to overturn those reforms and make it easier for union officials to block decertification votes, no matter how many rank-and-file workers request a vote.
Foundation Assisting Nurses at Other MN Medical Facilities to Exercise Right to Vote Out Unions
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys have recently assisted other workers in numerous successful decertification efforts. Just this month, Foundation-backed workers at Mayo Clinic’s location in St. James, MN, removed American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 65 from their hospital.
Foundation staff attorneys are also assisting nurses at four Cuyuna Regional Medical Center locations with obtaining a vote to remove Service Employees International Union (SEIU) bosses from their facilities. Because the NLRB has made the decertification process unnecessarily complicated, workers often need to turn to Foundation attorneys for free legal aid in navigating the process.
“These nurses worked hard to exercise their right to remove a union they didn’t feel represented their interests, and Foundation staff attorneys were happy to help them,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “MNA union officials’ arbitrary attempt to block the certification of the nurses’ will demonstrates the ridiculous charades union officials often pull just to keep siphoning money from workers who don’t want them anymore.”
“The situation also puts into stark relief the risk the Biden NLRB is putting independent-minded workers in by attempting to reverse the recent Election Protection reforms. Eliminating the reforms will make it easier for union bosses to trap workers in forced-dues union ranks, even when a majority of workers oppose the union’s so-called ‘representation,’” Mix added.
King Soopers Workers Successfully Challenge Illegal UFCW Union Strike Fines with National Right to Work Legal Aid
UFCW union bosses begin dropping illegal fines against workers, but union still faces investigation on federal charges
Denver, CO (August 15, 2022) – Grocery store workers at King Soopers are continuing to battle, and win, against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 union officials’ illegal attempts to fine workers for exercising their right to work during a January UFCW strike action. While the union remains under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a series of charges filed by workers with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, several workers have already successfully challenged thousands of dollars in union fines.
In June and July three King Soopers workers, Nick Hall, Marcelo Ruybal and Hope Schaefer, filed federal charges against UFCW in response to union officials illegally threatening to fine the workers, who chose to exercise their right to work during a strike. The workers, whom union bosses are threatening to fine $812, $3,800, and $3,897.36 respectively, stated in their charges that the fines were illegal because the workers were not voluntary union members, and therefore not legally subject to internal union fines for working during the UFCW boss-ordered 10-day strike.
All three NLRB charges are still being investigated by NLRB Region 27 based in Denver.
In Schaefer’s case the union had previously even acknowledged in a 2011 letter that she was not a UFCW union member. However, although the union know she had not been a union member for more than a decade, UFCW union officials still threatened her with the nearly $4,000 fine.
In Hall’s case, the union recently backed down, rescinding the union’s illegal fine threat in a letter dated July 27, essentially acknowledging that it broke federal law. Other workers have also successfully challenged union boss fine threats following the January strike. With free legal representation from Foundation staff attorneys, worker Yen Chan challenged the union’s authority to issue a $3,552.48 fine, with union officials backing down rather than face further legal action.
At least two other King Soopers workers also successfully challenged thousands of dollars in UFCW strike fines using information provided by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys. Any worker facing such fines can still request free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation by calling 1-800-336-3600 or through the Foundation’s website: www.nrtw.org/free-legal-aid
“King Soopers workers are already beating back illegal fines levied by UFCW union officials, even as union officials are still under investigation by the NLRB for three unfair labor practice charges,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Union bosses were caught red-handed in Nick Hall’s case which is why we’re already seeing them back down, but it shouldn’t take the assistance of National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys just to force union bullies to abide by federal law and cease violating the rights of rank-and-file workers.”
Flight Attendant’s Legal Victory Over Illegal Union-Instigated Firing Exposes Union Boss Targeting of Dissenting Employees
Trial documents show union activist advocating ‘targeted assassinations’ of union critics, Southwest senior management referring to nonmember as ‘cancer’
Dallas, TX (August 3, 2022) – During former Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter’s recently-concluded federal trial over her illegal firing at the hands of Southwest and Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), disturbing details emerged about the union’s treatment of employees who object to the union’s agenda. The trial ended in a unanimous jury verdict in favor of Carter which awarded her more than $5 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages.
Carter’s Foundation staff attorneys filed a lawsuit for her in 2017 against the union and Southwest for illegally firing her for speaking out about her religious beliefs and against the union’s political activities. In January 2017, Carter learned that Audrey Stone, then union president, and other TWU Local 556 officials used union dues to attend the “Women’s March on Washington D.C.” That event was sponsored by political groups Carter opposed, including Planned Parenthood.
The illegal firing occurred after President Stone reported Carter to Southwest for sending Stone online messages challenging Stone’s leadership and the political agenda the union hierarchy was pursuing. Carter’s opposition to union political activities included the TWU officials’ advocacy against a National Right to Work law which, if passed, would have allowed Carter to completely cut off financial support to the union.
Emails Show Union Militants Ridiculed Employees Who Didn’t Want to Fund Union Politics, Pushed ‘Targeted Assassinations’ for Union Dissidents
At the trial Carter’s attorneys introduced emails obtained in discovery that showed TWU higher-ups’ contempt for workers opposed to the union’s control. A 2014 email communication to Southwest’s then-Senior Director in Inflight Services, Sonya Lacore, from TWU union activist Brian Talburt had the latter advocating for “targeted assassinations” of union dissidents via social media. Lacore referred to Talburt as her “frequent pen pal” during her deposition prior to trial.
In the same email, Talburt labeled Corliss King, who later became a Local 556 executive board member, as “incredibly dangerous” because “She will play VERY well to the heavy inner city, minority crowd.” Talburt suggested there would be an “opportunity” for an assassination of King given what he described as her “dreadful work history.”
Also in the email, a union nonmember and frequent critic, Mike Casper, was referred to as a “cancer” that must be “eradicated.” Talburt also appears to call union critics “sheeple” and “cancer,” and says dissent against the union is “a dangerous thing and must b [sic] eradicated when ever [sic] possible or it spreads… I highly encourage targeting people.”
Talburt later forwarded the email to TWU president Stone highlighting what he claimed was “off the record” promotion to Lacore of “targeted assassination” of union critics. President Stone would then later target Carter with the complaint to company management that led to Carter’s illegal termination by Southwest.
President Stone also testified at trial to reporting other union opponents to Southwest, including the leader of the recall effort whom Stone reported for criticizing her on social media for reporting Carter. Throughout 2017, Talburt repeatedly emailed Southwest management, asking that they discipline the recall leader and other union opponents for their protected activities.
Emails unearthed by Foundation attorneys and introduced at trial also showed the contempt that Southwest and TWU officials had for Carter specifically because she opposed union political activities. After Carter sent an email to TWU Local 556 Treasurer John Parrot demanding that the union stop deductions from her paycheck for the union’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Parrot forwarded Carter’s request to several union agents, saying “Ha! She has been supporting the thing she despises this entire time…”
One respondent to Parrot’s forward was Todd Gage, a TWU Local 556 Vice President, who wrote: “I wish I could give her a list of all the campaigns she has donated to in the last 17 years! Her head would explode.” Local 556 Second Vice President, Brett Nevarez, said “so typical bat****/dip**** cannot read her paycheck!”
Foundation Attorneys Will Continue to Defend Carter
Despite the unanimous jury verdict for Carter, Southwest and TWU union officials have announced that they will appeal. Foundation staff attorneys will continue to defend Carter.
“Ms. Carter demonstrated that, even in an overwhelmingly toxic environment, independent-minded workers can stand up, push back against union boss attacks on individual rights and free speech, and win,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The evidence presented at Carter’s trial reveals an ingrained union culture of intimidation and prejudice against dissident workers. While we will keep fighting to defend Ms. Carter’s victory for her rights, flight attendants or other employees who have experienced similar hostility should not hesitate to contact the National Right to Work Foundation for help in defending their rights.”
“Federal law governing labor relations in the air and rail industries allows union officials to demand workers fund their activities as a condition of employment,” Mix added. “TWU union officials’ attacks on employees who disagree with the union’s agenda are the unsurprising result of a system in which workers do not have even the simple power to withhold dues when union officials violate their rights – an accountability mechanism Right to Work protects.”
Certification of result follows similar vote by hundreds of nurses at Mankato Mayo Clinic location to remove Minnesota Nurses Association union
St. James, MN (August 1, 2022) – Healthcare workers at the Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James, Minnesota have formally removed the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 65 from their hospital. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made the 15-2 vote official after the 7-day deadline for union election objections passed without any objections filed.
The workers’ decertification petition was filed by registered nurse Heather Youngwirth with the NLRB Region 18 office in Minneapolis, MN with free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys. The vote on whether to end AFSCME union officials’ monopoly bargaining powers at the Mayo Clinic was 15-2 in favor of decertification of AFSCME, with the Labor Board’s official tally happening last week.
Minnesota is not a Right to Work state, meaning workers can be forced to pay dues or fees to union officials as a condition of keeping their jobs. Because the workers’ decertification vote was successful, AFSCME union officials are stripped of their monopoly “representation” powers, including the ability to impose a forced dues requirement on the nurses in the bargaining unit.
National Right to Work Foundation legal aid has recently assisted workers in several decertification efforts in Minnesota. In addition to the St. James Mayo Clinic, hundreds of nurses at Mayo Clinic in Mankato, Minnesota recently voted to remove the Minnesota Nurses Association. Meanwhile, two groups of employees at four Cuyuna Regional Medical Center locations recently filed petitions seeking decertification votes seeking to remove SEIU union officials.
Because the NLRB has made the decertification process unnecessarily complicated, workers often need to turn to Foundation attorneys for free legal aid in navigating the process. The Foundation recently aided metalworkers at Minneapolis Washer and Stamping, who endured a year and a half of litigation, but have finally voted out Communications Workers of America (CWA) union officials.
“While these nurses have successfully removed a union they oppose, we should not lose sight that thousands of Minnesota workers are forced to pay union dues, not because they voluntarily choose to, but because they would be fired if they don’t pay up,” commented National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix. “It is past time Minnesota joins all of its neighboring states and ensure Minnesota workers have Right to Work protections so all workers can decide for themselves whether to financially support union activities.”
Minneapolis Metalworkers Win After Year-And-a-Half-Long Effort to Vote Out Unpopular CWA Union Bosses
Union ousted in employee-requested election despite its efforts to manipulate allegations against employer to stop vote
Minneapolis, MN (July 29, 2022) – After a year-and-a-half-long legal battle, Minneapolis metalworker Roger Downing and his coworkers at Minneapolis Washer and Stamping have successfully voted unpopular Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) Local 1140 union officials out of their facility. Downing received free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified the election result in Downing’s workplace on July 20. Downing and his coworkers’ effort faced headwinds in 2021 after IUE-CWA union bosses filed election “blocking charges.” Those are often-unsubstantiated charges against employers that union officials frequently use to shut down employee-led efforts to vote unions out.
The NLRB adopted Foundation-backed reforms in 2020 that generally prevent such charges from stopping a decertification election. The reforms also provide that employees at least be allowed to cast ballots before allegations of misconduct surrounding the election are resolved.
Metalworkers Persist after IUE-CWA Union Boss Attempts to Stifle Vote
Downing first submitted a petition asking the NLRB to conduct a decertification vote in March 2021. IUE-CWA union lawyers quickly filed “blocking charges” alleging misdeeds by Minneapolis Washer and Stamping officials that were not even related to the employees’ desire for an election. NLRB Region 18 in Minneapolis, apparently ignoring the 2020 election rules curbing these oft-used union tactics, decided to block the election at the union officials’ behest.
Foundation attorneys representing Downing filed a Request for Review at the NLRB in Washington, DC, arguing that NLRB Region 18 had wrongfully disregarded the 2020 reforms to NLRB election rules. The Request for Review also pointed out that Region 18 blocked the election without holding an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there was any causal connection between IUE-CWA union officials’ claims and the employees’ desire to boot the union – a breach of NLRB precedent predating the 2020 rules.
Once union officials’ ability to block the election expired, Downing submitted a second decertification petition for his colleagues. The election result demonstrated that IUE-CWA union officials no longer have majority employee support, and consequently, that union officials can no longer impose their monopoly bargaining powers over the entire work unit. Downing and his fellow metalworkers are now free of the union.
Workers Across Minnesota Standing Up to Unwanted Unions
Downing and his coworkers’ successful ouster of the IUE-CWA union comes as other rank-and-file workers in the Gopher State are seeking Foundation aid in obtaining “decertification elections” to eliminate union representation that no longer serves their interests. Recently, hundreds of nurses at Mayo Clinic locations in Mankato and St. James voted by wide margins to eject Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) union officials and American Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union officials respectively.
Also, earlier this month, employees of Cuyuna Regional Medical Center facilities in the Brainerd Lakes region of Minnesota filed multiple petitions for elections to remove Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Minnesota from power.
Minnesota lacks Right to Work protections for its private sector employees. Thus, union officials can force even workers who reject formal union membership to pay some union dues or fees as a condition of staying employed. In contrast, all the states that border Minnesota and 23 others have Right to Work protections that ensure union membership and financial support are strictly voluntary.
“In Mr. Downing and his colleagues’ workplace we see yet another example of union officials unabashedly stifling the will of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’ Foundation attorneys were honored to aid Mr. Downing and his coworkers as they persisted for well over a year through litigation meant to stop them from kicking out an unpopular union,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix.
“Union association should never be forced, and Minnesota legislators should pass a Right to Work law to protect workers’ right to freely choose whether to join or fund a union,” Mix added.
Following union boss-ordered January strike, nonmember workers now face thousands in ‘internal union fines’ in violation of longstanding federal law
Denver, CO (July 25, 2022) – Another King Soopers grocery worker has filed federal charges against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 union in response to union officials illegally threatening to fine the worker, who chose to exercise her right to work during a strike. The case, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, is the third recently filed by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys for King Soopers employees challenging retaliatory fines by UFCW union officials.
Grocery worker Hope Schaefer has not been a union member for more than a decade, something union officials previously acknowledged in a 2011 letter. Despite this, UFCW union officials falsely accused her of working behind a picket line while still a union member during the union’s 10-day strike and threatened a fine of nearly $4,000.
UFCW officials demanded that workers strike against King Soopers grocery stores for more than a week in January 2022, impacting more than 8,000 employees. In response to the high profile strike, the Foundation issued a legal notice informing the affected workers of their rights that union officials often hide, including the right to continue to work to support their families. The notice warned workers that to protect themselves from being subjected to internal “union discipline” such as fines for defying union strike orders workers should first resign their formal union membership.
The Foundation legal notice also noted that during past UFCW-instigated strikes workers faced unlawful fines, which union officials claim can only be disputed at internal union kangaroo courts. However, with free legal aid from Foundation attorneys, many workers have successfully challenged such fines on the grounds that union bosses have no authority to levy such fines against workers who are not fully voluntary union members.
In June, Foundation staff attorneys filed NLRB charges against UFCW Local 7 after union officials similarly sought to illegally levy heavy fines against King Soopers grocery workers Nick Hall and Marcelo Ruybal despite not being voluntary union members. Reportedly UFCW union bosses have issued similar threats to numerous workers with fines of “$250 per day… as well as all monies earned … from King Soopers during [the] dates of these violations.”
“Workers should not have to choose between feeding their families and bending the knee to union bosses during UFCW-imposed strikes,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “But in what has become an unfortunately predictable pattern, rather than accept limits to their unique government-granted power, UFCW union bosses are once again violating federal law to punish independent-minded workers.”
“Other King Soopers workers facing similar fines should know they can reach out to Foundation staff attorneys for free legal assistance in challenging such excessive, retaliatory fines,” added Mix.
Maine Medical Center Nurses Secure Vote to Remove Unwanted Maine State Nurses Association Union Officials’ ‘Representation’
More than 500 workers petitioned for union “decertification election” seeking a vote as soon as allowed following imposition of unwanted union
Portland, ME (July 21, 2022) – Maine Medical Center nurses will soon vote in an election that could send Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA-NNU, an affiliate of National Nurses United) union officials packing from the hospital. This follows Nurse Davin Brooks’ submission of a petition containing signatures of more than 500 of his colleagues.
Brooks and his fellow nurses are receiving free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The petition comes as Foundation staff attorneys are increasingly assisting healthcare workers in obtaining votes to remove unwanted unions, including in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Massachusetts.
The NLRB is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal private-sector labor law, a duty which includes conducting votes to both certify and decertify unions. Foundation staff attorneys recommended reforms the NLRB adopted in 2020 that significantly eased processes by which workers can request a vote to remove an unwanted union. Those reforms included limiting union officials’ ability to manipulate often-unverified allegations of employer wrongdoing to stop an employee-requested union decertification vote.
Union Installed Through Dubious Mail-Ballot Process, Employees Soon Wanted Ouster
MSNA union officials were originally installed at Maine Medical Center in Portland in May 2021, after the NLRB conducted a mail-ballot union certification vote among the hospital employees. Mail-ballot NLRB elections, which before COVID were very rare and only held where in-person votes were not feasible, have lower turnout rates than standard in-person elections. Studies show mail-ballot elections benefit union organizers in part due to that lower turnout. Conducting such votes through the mail also has resulted in post office errors that disenfranchise workers, and ballot harvesting by union organizers that undermines the privacy of workers’ votes.
Since the union was installed last year, MSNA union officials and Maine Medical Center management have been unable to finalize a contract. Brooks filed the decertification petition signed by his coworkers in June, the soonest allowed by the NLRB’s “election bar” which prevents more than one such election within a year. The election is scheduled for August 17 and 18, and will be held in person at multiple Maine Medical Center locations.
“Maine Medical Center employees are more than reasonable in their desire to oust MSNA union officials, who came to power at the facility through a questionable mail-ballot vote and have failed to produce a contract in over a year,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “No healthcare worker should be subject to the monopoly control of a union that they don’t believe serves their interests. We are proud to aid Mr. Brooks and his coworkers in exercising their right to free themselves of union officials that clearly made promises to nurses on which the union could not actually deliver.”
Healthcare Workers at Multiple Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Locations File Petitions to Remove SEIU Union
Clerical and technical bargaining unit employees signed petitions seeking vote to end SEIU Healthcare Minnesota union’s monopoly ‘representation’
Minneapolis, MN (July 19, 2022) – Two groups of healthcare employees spread across four Cuyuna Regional Medical Center facilities in the Brainerd Lakes region of Minnesota have filed petitions seeking the removal of the Healthcare Minnesota affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from their workplaces. The workers’ decertification petitions were filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Laurie Murphy and Terri Larson filed the decertification petitions with the signatures of numerous coworkers who oppose the Healthcare Minnesota SEIU union at the four Cuyuna Regional Medical Center facilities located in Crosby, Breezy Point, Longville, and Baxter.
Murphy filed her decertification petition on behalf of technical employees, which includes employees in the laboratory, respiratory therapy, physical therapy and radiology departments, along with licensed practical nurses, engineers, certified occupational therapy assistants, pharmacy technicians, and accredited records technicians. Larson filed a petition on behalf of clerical employees working in the business office or medical records department.
Under federal law, when at least 30% of workers in a bargaining unit sign a petition seeking the removal of union officials’ monopoly bargaining powers, an NLRB-conducted secret ballot vote whether to remove the union is triggered. If a majority of workers casting valid ballots do not vote for the union, the union is stripped of its government-granted monopoly “representation” powers. Those powers let union officials impose contracts on all workers in the workplace, even workers who are not union members and oppose the union.
Minnesota is not a Right to Work state, meaning all workers in a unionized workplace can legally be required to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of getting or keeping their jobs. If the bargaining unit workers vote to decertify, SEIU union officials will be stripped of their monopoly “representation” powers used to impose forced union dues or fees.
Foundation-advocated reforms to decertification elections that the NLRB adopted in 2020 have curtailed union officials’ abuse of so-called “blocking charges” to delay or block workers from exercising their right to decertify a union by asserting unproven allegations against their employer, often completely unrelated to workers’ desire to free themselves of the union. However, the Biden-appointed NLRB majority recently announced it will start rulemaking to overturn those reforms and make it easier for union officials to block decertification votes no matter how many rank-and-file workers want a vote.
“SEIU union officials claim to ‘represent’ these healthcare workers, but if they really believe they have the support of the rank-and-file, they won’t resort to blocking charges or other legal trickery to attempt to stall or block these decertification votes from promptly going forward,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Of course ultimately cases like these show why Minnesota workers need the protection of a Right to Work law to make all union financial support strictly voluntary. That way each individual worker could decide for themselves whether union bosses deserve part of their hard-earned paycheck.”
Flight Attendant Triumphs Over TWU Union and Southwest in Suit About Illegal Firing; Jury Awards $5.1 Million in Damages
TWU union and Southwest retaliated against employee for speaking out against political stances and activities of union leadership that violated her religious beliefs
Dallas, TX (July 14, 2022) – Southwest Airlines flight attendant Charlene Carter has just prevailed in her federal lawsuit in which she charged the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) Local 556 union and Southwest for illegally firing her for her religious opposition to abortion. She received free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys.
Today a federal district court jury returned a verdict that found in Carter’s favor in all counts of the lawsuit. The jury awarded Carter $5.1 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages against TWU and Southwest for their respective role in her unlawful termination.
Following the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas’ announcement of a verdict in the case, National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix issued the following statement about Carter’s victory:
“This long overdue verdict vindicates Ms. Carter’s fundamental right to dissent from the causes and ideas that TWU union officials – who claim to ‘represent’ Southwest flight attendants – support while forcing workers to bankroll their activities. No American worker should have to fear termination, intimidation, or any other reprisal merely for speaking out against having their own money spent, purportedly in their name, to promote an agenda they find abhorrent.
“Even with this basic right under the Railway Labor Act successfully defended, however, TWU union officials still enjoy the enormous government-granted privilege of being able to force airline workers to financially subsidize their activities as a condition of employment. While we’re proud to stand with Ms. Carter and are pleased by the verdict, there ultimately should be no place in American labor law for compelling workers to fund a private organization that violates their core beliefs.”
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, such as abortion.
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 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 employees to remain nonmembers of the union, 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 dues 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 sending 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.
Religious Discrimination Suit Already Weathered Early Attack from Southwest and Union
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.
Before the District Court’s decision, a federal judge blocked attempts to shut down the case early by Southwest and TWU. Both defendants filed motions for summary judgment, with Southwest claiming that Carter lacked a “private right of action” to enforce her rights under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and that her case concerned only a “minor” dispute over interpretation of the union contract that is outside the jurisdiction of the District Court. District Court Judge Brantley Starr rejected all those motions, ruling that “genuine disputes of material fact” precluded summary judgment and that a jury should decide those disputes.