Employee wins reinstatement and back pay after being unlawfully fired for exercising right to reject formal union membership
Pleasanton, CA (January 4, 2024) – After being fired over her refusal to formally become a formal union member, Construction Testing Services employee Alexandra Le won a settlement against the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) and her employer. The settlement, won with free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, requires CTS to reinstate Le and requires CTS and the IUOE union to jointly pay back to her over $9,000 in back wages and benefits. Le will also receive back hundreds in union fees that were deducted from her paycheck without her authorization.
In October, Le filed federal charges at National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 32 in Oakland, CA, stating that IUOE union officials illegally demanded she join the union as a condition of keeping her job and instigated her firing by CTS when she refused to join. Le, who works in fire and life safety as a firestop inspector, also noted in her charges that IUOE officials failed to inform her of her right to abstain from formal union membership, and never notified her of her right to pay a reduced amount of union dues as a nonmember.
According to her charges, company and union officials began deducting full union dues directly from her paycheck without her permission, and deducted a dues amount that included union political expenses and other costs not legally chargeable to workers who aren’t formal union members.
IUOE Union Officials Ignored Supreme Court Precedents in Effort to Force Worker into Union Membership
Because California lacks Right to Work protections for its private sector workers, Le and her coworkers can be forced to pay some fees to the union as a condition of keeping their jobs, even if they’ve abstained from formal union membership. However, as per the National Right to Work Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision, even in non-Right to Work states union officials can’t force nonmember employees to pay for union politics and other activities outside the union’s bargaining functions. Other Supreme Court precedents and federal labor laws protect workers’ right to refrain from formal union membership and require union bosses to seek workers’ express consent before deducting dues directly from their paychecks.
In contrast, in Right to Work states, union membership and all union financial support are fully voluntary. As Le’s case was ongoing, she submitted written testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce for a hearing on a federal law to expand Right to Work protections for employees nationwide.
In her testimony, she described the impact the illegal union-instigated firing had on her life: “My absence significantly set me back from a financial standpoint and has led to the stressful process of having to fight for my rights via the legal process…And while the union fees cause a notable decrease in my hard-earned take-home pay, the time lost and stress incurred by asserting rights that I had to discover independently has been equally detrimental.”
“Simply put, nobody should be forced to join or pay any dues or fees to a union that they do not want to join,” Le concluded. Two other workers who had received free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation also testified in the hearing about their experiences with illegal union forced-dues demands as a result of lacking the protection of Right to Work laws.
Worker Will Receive Back Pay and Repayments of Union Dues and Fees as Part of Settlement
Le’s Foundation-won settlement completely vindicates her rights. In addition to reinstatement and repayments of back wages and illegally-seized union fees, the settlement dictates that the company will only deduct the reduced Beck amount of union dues from Le’s paycheck going forward. The union will also waive fees totaling roughly $1,700 that its officials tried to force Le to pay from the time her case began back to the date of her hiring.
“Ms. Le’s battle to protect her freedom of association from IUOE union officials is courageous, but no worker should ever have to fight this hard to protect their livelihood from dues-hungry union officials,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix.
“While we’re proud to help Ms. Le prevail in her case, the fact is that the very IUOE bosses who so callously instigated her illegal firing are still authorized to collect mandatory union fees from her because California workers lack the protection of a Right to Work law,” Mix added. “Workers themselves – not union bosses – should be in charge of determining whether a union is worthy of receiving their hard-earned cash, which is why all Americans deserve the protection of Right to Work.”
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.