Workers requested decertification vote amid contentious boycott and picket ordered by union officials against rank-and-file workers
Washington, DC (January 8, 2024) – Employees of five Union Kitchen locations in the Washington, DC, metro area have voted to remove United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 union officials from power at the chain. The final vote tally was 24-1 in favor of ending UFCW Local 400’s monopoly bargaining power over the workers. Pending certification of the vote result by National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 5 in Baltimore, the employees will be free of the union.
The effort to oust the UFCW union began in July 2023 when Union Kitchen employee Ashley Silva submitted a petition asking the NLRB to hold a union decertification vote among her coworkers, the vast majority of whom backed the petition. She received free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.
Because the District of Columbia lacks Right to Work protections for its private sector workers, UFCW union officials had the power to force Silva and her coworkers at the four DC Union Kitchen locations to pay union dues or fees as a condition of keeping their jobs. In contrast, in Right to Work jurisdictions like Virginia (home to one of the affected Union Kitchen locations), union membership and financial support are strictly voluntary. However, in both Right to Work and non-Right to Work jurisdictions, union officials can use their monopoly bargaining power to dictate the work conditions of all employees in a work unit, even those who voted against or otherwise oppose the union. A union decertification vote ends that union monopoly power.
Employees Voted to Remove Divisive Union Despite Union Attempts to Delay Vote Count
Silva and her coworkers’ effort began amid union boss-ordered pickets and boycotts against Union Kitchen Grocery locations, which inflamed tensions among workers. In some instances, union picketers endangered workers by blocking exits, requiring the intervention of police.
“The vast majority of the workers at Union Kitchen are sick and tired of the UFCW’s picketing, harassment of employees, and constant disruptions of our day-to-day work life,” Silva said at the time. “If the union cares at all about what we want, they will respect our wishes and immediately disclaim their interest in representing workers who have overwhelmingly rejected them.”
While Silva and her coworkers cast ballots in the union decertification election in October 2023, tension increased when UFCW union officials used “blocking charges” to stop the votes from being counted. “Blocking charges” are often unverified or unrelated charges of employer misconduct that union officials can manipulate to stall a ballot tally in a union decertification case.
However, as per NLRB rules, if the NLRB does not issue a complaint based on union officials’ allegations within 60 days of a decertification election, the ballots must be counted. NLRB Region 5 did not issue a complaint based on UFCW lawyers’ allegations within the 60-day window, thus allowing the ballot count to proceed.
However, despite the overwhelming 24-1 vote against the union, UFCW officials may still try to manipulate their charges to stop certification of the vote result. The union also challenged eight employee ballots (meaning that 32 workers total likely voted against further union presence), but the number of challenged ballots is not enough to alter the final result of the vote.
“We’re happy that Ms. Silva and her coworkers were finally able to exercise their right to vote out a union that actively worked against their interests,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “What’s concerning, however, is the fact that UFCW union officials could still prop up questionable allegations to stall the certification of an election that the very employees they claim to ‘represent’ asked for.”
“That, combined with the fact that UFCW officials’ combative tactics made life harder for Union Kitchen employees, again shows why all American employees deserve the freedom to abstain from funding a union they disapprove of,” Mix added.
“We call on union officials to withdraw their allegations and let the decision of the Union Kitchen workers stand,” Mix concluded.
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.