The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, January/February 2022 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
To justify forced dues union official sent ‘remedial church readings’ to employee, her priest
Instead of just granting Dorothy Frame a religious accommodation as federal law requires, LIUNA union bosses disparaged her faith.
CLARKSVILLE, TN – Dorothy Frame, who works at a hospital at Tennessee’s Fort Campbell, asked for a federally required religious accommodation over two years ago so she didn’t have to pay dues to Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) bosses in her workplace. Since then, LIUNA union bosses have ridiculed her faith, seized dues from her wages even after she requested an accommodation, and refused to give back funds they took from her in violation of her rights.
Now, with free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, Frame has hit LIUNA bosses with a federal lawsuit for violating her rights. Her lawsuit charges the union with religious discrimination for siphoning dues from her paycheck when union officials knew doing so violated her religious beliefs. The lawsuit also charges the union with religious harassment for threatening to fire her if she didn’t submit union dues in contradiction to her beliefs.
LIUNA Officials Brazenly Ridiculed Beliefs of Employee and Her Priest
Frame gave the union a letter in July 2019 requesting a religious accommodation, her lawsuit says. It included a message from her parish priest backing her position. Federal law prohibits union officials from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. Accommodations of religious objections to dues payment often consist of permitting a dissenting worker to instead contribute the dues amount to a mutually agreed upon charity.
Even though Tennessee is a Right to Work state, union officials claim that Fort Campbell is a “federal enclave” not subject to state law. Frame’s employer (J & J Worldwide Service) and LIUNA maintain a contract that forces workers to pay union dues to stay employed.
A response to Frame’s letter from a LIUNA lawyer came the following month, her lawsuit notes, attacking her accommodation request and demanding that she “prove that her beliefs ‘meet the standard for a “legitimate justification.”’” The union lawyer also claimed that Ms. Frame’s understanding of her faith was inferior to his own understanding of her faith and even closed the letter by “sending Ms. Frame — and her priest — remedial church readings.”
One of Frame’s attorneys sent a letter in reply demonstrating how the accommodation request conformed to various church teachings. Nonetheless, LIUNA bosses continued to take dues from Frame’s paycheck.
Frame then filed a discrimination charge against LIUNA with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Even after EEOC proceedings and additional letters from her attorney demonstrating the union’s various forms of support for causes and ideas she objected to, Frame’s lawsuit explains, union officials still refused to accommodate her. LIUNA bosses also “refuse to return any money they collected from Ms. Frame” since she sought an accommodation.
Employee Seeks Damages for Emotional Pain Caused by Union Discrimination
Frame’s lawsuit asks that the court declare “she has the right to a religious accommodation that alleviates her obligation to join or support the Unions” and order that LIUNA return all money seized from her wages in violation of her religious beliefs, plus pay “damages for emotional pain, suffering, and mental anguish that she suffered because the Unions repeatedly challenged and disparaged her religious beliefs.”
Frame is a Catholic who staunchly opposes LIUNA union officials’ position on abortion. “Ms. Frame believes that abortion is a grave sin,” her lawsuit details. “She believes joining or financially supporting the Unions would make her complicit in that sin because she believes that the Unions support and promote abortion. Thus, she believes that any money the Unions collect from her makes her complicit in sin and violates her religious beliefs.”
“LIUNA officials have put their arrogance and callousness on full display by forcing Ms. Frame to choose between losing her job and severely compromising her religious beliefs,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Denying an individual a simple religious accommodation clearly violates federal law, and Foundation attorneys will fight for Ms. Frame until she is accommodated.”
“Big Labor’s government-granted privilege to force fees out of workers as a job condition allowed this kind of abuse to happen — no American worker should be forced to subsidize unwanted union activities just to keep his or her job,” Mix added.