The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2022 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.

Machinists union scheme sought to deny non-union workers’ bonuses because they opposed union association


IAM bosses regularly discriminate against dissident workers. In 2011, Foundation-assisted South Carolina Boeing employee Dennis Murray recounted how IAM officials tried to shutter his plant because workers there had voted the IAM out.

RIDGWAY, PA – Twelve nonunion factory employees at Clarion Sintered Metals, Inc., have each received $1,000 in back pay bonuses after being illegally discriminated against by International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Local 2448 and their employer. With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation, factory worker James Cobaugh filed federal charges against Clarion and IAM as he sought justice for himself and other non-member workers subject to unlawful discrimination.

Mr. Cobaugh’s charges against the union and his employer were filed on April 22, 2022, with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The charges came after the union and Clarion Sintered Metals gave $1,000 bonuses to union members, but denied them to workers who exercised their legal right not to join the union. Rather than face prosecution by the NLRB, both the union and employer have now agreed to settle the case.

In addition to the non-union employees receiving the bonuses they were previously denied as a result of the illegal discrimination, both the IAM and Clarion Sintered Metals are required to post notices that inform workers of their right to refrain from joining a union. The notices also state union officials will not maintain or enforce such discriminatory agreements going forward.

Machinists Union Bosses Already Forced Non-Union Workers to Pay Dues

Because Pennsylvania lacks Right to Work protections for private sector employees, unions can force workers to pay up to 100% of union dues as a condition of keeping their jobs. This means that Mr. Cobaugh, although not a formal IAM union member, can be forced to pay up to 100% of IAM’s union dues to keep his job at Clarion Sintered Metals.

Even in Right to Work states, under federal law union bosses are granted the power to impose “representation” on individual workers against their will, including forcing non-member workers under union monopoly contracts they oppose. By stripping workers of their right to bargain for their own terms and conditions of employment, individual workers by law are prohibited from negotiating for themselves with their employers for better conditions.

Forced Union Monopoly ‘Representation’ Long Used to Discriminate

Union officials frequently use these government-granted powers to harm certain workers, for example those workers who, based on their productivity, would otherwise earn performance bonuses or higher compensation. Although union officials can impose one-size-fits-all monopoly contracts that favor some workers over others, there are some limits on how union monopoly powers can be used to discriminate.

The U.S. Supreme Court imposed these limits after union officials wielded their powers to negotiate and enforce racially discriminatory contracts (Steele v. Louisville & N.R. Co. et al.). Explicitly discriminating against workers who exercise their legally protected right to not formally join a union and not be subject to internal union rules, as the IAM officials did in this case, has also long been illegal.

“This situation highlights how workers less knowledgeable of their legal rights are susceptible to blatantly illegal tactics of power-hungry union bosses,” commented National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens. “Mr. Cobaugh courageously stood up to the union’s unlawful actions, not only for himself, but also for the other non-member workers subjected to this illegal discrimination.”

Posted on Feb 19, 2023 in Newsletter Articles