Steelworkers union officials attempted to wield anti-worker “contract bar” to trap workers in union they oppose, using union contract workers twice rejected

Franklin, PA (November 29, 2022) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Kerry Hunsberger and her coworkers at Latrobe Specialty Metals Company have scored a victory in their effort to vote United Steelworkers (USW) union officials out of their facility. Hunsberger and her coworkers are challenging USW officials’ secret “ratification” of a union contract that workers had overwhelmingly voted down twice, and union officials’ contention that the employees should be barred from exercising their right to oust the union because of that contract.

A decision from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Director in Pittsburgh now orders a union “decertification election” to be held among Hunsberger and her colleagues on December 6. In August, Hunsberger submitted to the NLRB a petition backed by the requisite number of her colleagues to trigger such a vote, but USW union bosses dragged their feet and argued that a non-statutory NLRB policy, the so-called “contract bar,” should block the employees’ right to vote because a contract was in place.

The “contract bar” arbitrarily immunizes unions from employee decertification votes for up to three years after a contract between union and company officials is finalized. The Regional Director’s decision rejects USW officials’ “contract bar” claims on the grounds that, in union officials’ haste to block the election, their so-called “contract” was sloppily drafted and lacked fundamental elements like the start and end dates the contract would be in effect. “I find, consistent with Petitioner, that the contract does not include effective and expiration dates and accordingly lacks material terms required for an agreement to act as a contract bar,” says the decision.

The decision, unfortunately, doesn’t explicitly address the most egregious of the USW union officials’ anti-worker tactics. USW officials lied to workers about their ratification votes, and attempted to impose a contract twice rejected by rank-and-file workers – all so employees could be trapped in forced dues-paying ranks for three additional years under the non-statutory, incumbent-protecting “contract bar” policy.

Steelworkers Union Officials Signed Unpopular Contract to Avoid Being Voted Out by Workers

Latrobe Specialty Metals workers first voted July 25 on the 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, they 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 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 formality because the officials had already signed the contract and claimed it was in effect.

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

According to the hearing transcript, one union boss admitted under oath that the Steelworkers union 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 the Steelworkers bosses’ lust for monopoly bargaining power and compulsory dues payments takes precedence over employee democracy.

The Steelworkers Union’s post-hearing brief openly admits 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 officials] had already executed.”

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).

Foundation President: Decision Encouraging, But Exposes Anti-Worker Bias of Federal Labor Law

“We’re pleased that Ms. Hunsberger and her colleagues will finally have a chance to vote out Steelworkers union officials who have glaring contempt for the wishes of the rank-and-file workers,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “However, that this decision ordering the election has to rely on the technicalities of what elements were or were not in the rushed union agreement shows how ingrained pro-forced unionism policies like the ‘contract bar’ are in federal law.”

“It remains outrageous that, had Steelworkers bosses merely added dates to this contract, the NLRB would have likely ruled that it was perfectly allowable for union officials to lie to workers, ignore their votes to reject the contract, and then trap them under union control and forced dues payments for at least three more years,” Mix added. “This highlights the injustice of the NLRB-concocted ‘contract bar’ policy that arbitrarily blocks workers’ statutory right to vote out union officials they oppose, and how it is antithetical to the NLRB’s supposed goal of defending employee free choice.”

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 around 250 cases nationwide per year.

Posted on Nov 29, 2022 in News Releases