Steelworkers bosses backed down from pursuing final objection to worker vote against union, attempt to trap workers under unpopular contract already failed

Venango County, PA (January 30, 2023) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Kerry Hunsberger and her coworkers at Latrobe Specialty Metals Company have successfully freed themselves from the unwanted “representation” of United Steelworkers (USW) union officials. Hunsberger and her coworkers voted to remove USW officials from their facility in December, following USW officials’ claim that no vote should occur because union officials secretly “ratified” a union contract that workers had overwhelmingly voted down twice.

USW officials outrageously argued before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that their covert signing of a tentative contract triggered a non-statutory policy known as the “contract bar” that prevented Hunsberger and her coworkers from voting the union out. However, Hunsberger’s Foundation-provided attorneys successfully defeated this union maneuver in November, which cleared the way for the vote to proceed. The “contract bar” is a non-statutory NLRB policy that arbitrarily immunizes unions from being “decertified” for up to three years after union officials and management conclude a contract.

A November decision of the NLRB regional director rejected the “contract bar” arguments, pointing out that the contract union officials sought to enforce lacked basic elements like start and end dates and thus doesn’t qualify as a contract sufficient to bar an election. Despite that ruling, union officials raised another objection after a majority of Latrobe Specialty Metals workers voted to remove the union, dubiously arguing that Latrobe Specialty Metals’ refusal to enforce the incomplete contract during the election period should invalidate the decertification vote.

However, Steelworkers bosses withdrew their objection on January 12, presumably because they recognized the unlikelihood that such an objection would reverse their election defeat. Union officials presented no additional objections by a January 27 filing deadline, meaning Hunsberger and her coworkers’ rejection of the USW union stands and has been certified by the NLRB.

USW Union Official Signed Unpopular Contract in Secret to Avoid Being Voted Out by Workers

In July 2022, Latrobe Specialty Metals workers first voted on a contract drawn up by Steelworkers union officials. The workers soundly rejected the contract, and Hunsberger began collecting employee signatures for a “decertification petition” shortly afterwards.

According to documents and transcripts filed with the NLRB, when Steelworkers union officials discovered a decertification petition was circulating, their representative secretly and unilaterally signed the disfavored contract on July 28, without telling the employees or the employer, in an attempt to trigger the “contract bar” rule and avoid the union being voted out.

In their haste to enact the employee-rejected contract to trigger the “contract bar,” union officials didn’t finalize critical details of the contract, like the start and end dates. Even though the union claims this contract was supposedly in effect on July 28, union officials held a new employee ratification vote on August 1, encouraging workers to ratify the contract but not telling them their “vote” was a meaningless sham because the union agent had already signed the contract and the union claimed it was in effect.

Hunsberger submitted a valid decertification petition on August 1, just hours before the sham ratification vote occurred. As with the previous vote, the workers again lopsidedly rejected the contract. But later that night, a union official suddenly announced to the employer that the contract was already in effect and the ratification vote was not required or necessary because of the covert signing on July 28.

According to the hearing transcript, one union boss admitted that the Steelworkers union regularly executes contracts despite employees voting them down, and that he did so in this case and ignored the employees’ vote against the contract “to protect the integrity of the union.” Apparently Steelworkers bosses’ lust for monopoly bargaining power and compulsory dues payments regularly takes precedence over the wishes of even a majority of the workers they claim to represent.

The Steelworkers Union’s post-hearing filings stated that union officials “executed the contract on July 28 to … pre-empt the decertification petition circulating at the facility” and that the August 1 “vote was only taken as a courtesy to employees [and] was an attempt to obtain their blessing of the contract that the [union] had already executed.” This is an effective admission that the union official “ratified” the contract to manipulate the “contract bar,” which would have shielded the union bosses from any employee attempts to remove the union.

In the same brief, union bosses doubled down on their deceptive practices, stating that “the Union’s representations to employees here are irrelevant… and the union was within its discretion to take a vote of its members and was not obligated to abide by the results of such a vote” (emphasis added).

NLRB Denied Cynical Union “Contract Bar” Maneuver, But Didn’t Address Union Deception

Foundation attorneys defended Hunsberger and her coworkers’ right to vote out the union from the USW officials’ shady “contract bar” claims. While the NLRB regional director eventually ordered the decertification election to proceed, her decision was narrow and singled out the contract’s lack of dates as the only reason the “contract bar” couldn’t be enforced. She did not address the most egregious of the USW union officials’ anti-worker tactics, particularly their misrepresentation that the employees’ votes on the contract would actually matter.

“Foundation attorneys were proud to fight for Ms. Hunsberger and her coworkers, who displayed remarkable perseverance in defending their right to vote out a union that they don’t believe serves their interests,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “However, this victory exposes glaring flaws in American labor law.”

“If USW officials had merely added valid dates to their unpopular contract, the NLRB would have likely enforced the deceptive union scheme to trap workers in union ranks against their will for three more years, as the ‘contract bar’ permits,” added Mix. “And these workers would have been forced to pay dues for those three years or be fired, as Pennsylvania is not a Right to Work state.”

“This is yet another demonstration that the ‘contract bar’ destroys union accountability, as union bosses can rush to ‘ratify’ unpopular contracts in secret, safe in the knowledge that a three-year shield from being voted out awaits them,” Mix added.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in about 200 cases nationwide per year.

Posted on Jan 30, 2023 in News Releases