Southwest Flight Attendant Files Lawsuit for Union Retaliation for Criticizing Union Boss Political Stances
EEOC Charges say union officials and Southwest violated flight attendant’s civil rights when they fired her for voicing her beliefs
Dallas, TX (October 3, 2017) – With free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, a fired Southwest Airlines flight attendant sued her ex-employer and union officials on September 14, 2017, after voicing her views on abortion, supporting a National Right to Work law, and opposing union officials’ leadership. Charlene Carter has filed a court complaint against Transport Union Workers of America (TWUA) Local 556 and Southwest Airlines as well as Equal Opportunity Employment Commission employment discrimination charges against Southwest Airlines and Local 556.
Charlene Carter is a Christian who believes her faith requires that she spread her pro-life message. As a Southwest employee, Carter joined Local 556 in September 1996. She resigned her membership in September 2013 after learning that her union dues were going towards causes that violate her conscience.
As is her right, Carter dropped union membership but was still forced to pay fees to Local 556 as a condition of her employment. State Right to Work laws do not protect her from forced union fees because airline and railway employees are covered by the federal Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA allows union officials to have a worker fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees.
Carter often directly messaged the president of Local 556 with criticisms of the union’s leadership and political stances. Carter never had any communication from Southwest, from the union, or the union president that such speech was contrary to the terms of her employment. That changed in 2017, when after several years of dissatisfaction with union officials, Carter criticized the union for supporting abortion and voiced support for National Right to Work legislation that would end the requirement that she pay forced union fees to a union that advocates against positions about which she feels strongly.
A labor dispute amongst Local 556 members began in 2012 and lasted more than five years concerning the legitimacy of the Local 556 Executive board. Two members of the board were removed after their opponents filed misconduct claims against them. Under union bylaws, two candidates from the losing party were nominated to fill the vacant positions. Audrey Stone of the losing party was elected president by the newly installed executive board.
Over the next two years, more than 90 employees opted out of union membership in response to what they saw as an improper power grab. The election was again contested via a Department of Labor complaint, but that complaint was eventually dismissed by Labor Department officials. Through 2016, over 7,000 signatures were collected for a recall of Stone but the union executive board dismissed this petition as well.
In January 2017, Carter found out that Stone and other Local 556 officials probably used union dues to attend the “Women’s March on Washington DC” which showed support for several political positions she opposed, including abortion and funding for the abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.
Carter posted in various Facebook groups for Southwest flight attendants and sent a personal message to President Stone, explaining why she was upset her money was going towards causes she did not support. These complaints garnered no response from either the union or Southwest. But then, Carter sent Stone another e-mail exclaiming her support for a National Right to Work bill.
Only six days after sending Stone that e-mail, Carter received notification from Southwest managers that they needed to have a mandatory meeting as soon as possible in regards to “Facebook posts they had seen.” During this meeting, Southwest presented Carter screen shots of her pro-life postings. Southwest bosses questioned why she sent these messages, despite Carter explaining her beliefs. Southwest authorities said that Stone claimed to be harassed by these messages.
A week after this meeting, Carter was fired from her job. Southwest said she violated its “Workplace Bullying and Hazing Policy” and its “Social Media Policy” by sharing her pro-life beliefs because her message was “highly offensive in nature.” Carter had never previously received any discipline in her 20 year career with Southwest.
As Carter’s legal filings document, this explanation lacks any credulity. Throughout the five year labor dispute over the TWUA Local 556 executive board, supporters of Stone routinely encouraged violence, used vulgarities, and even sent death threats towards their fellow Southwest employees and union members who opposed Stone. Yet none of them have been fired for their offensive language, apparently because they had the right politics and supported the union brass.
“This case shows the extent to which union officials will wield their power over employers to violate the rights’ of the workers they claim to represent,” said Mark Mix president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Charlene Carter did nothing wrong. She merely voiced her opinion and opposition to her money being used for causes she opposes, expressing her protected religious beliefs. Southwest and TWUA union officials need to be held accountable for violating Charlene’s rights and the National Right to Work Foundation is pleased to help her stand up to this campaign of harassment.”
U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear First Amendment Challenge to Forced Union Fees for Government Workers
Worker Advocate: Injustice to the Free Speech rights of public school teachers, public safety officials, and other government workers close to coming to an end
Washington, DC (September 28, 2017 ) – In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement today that it is granting a writ of certiorari in Janus v. AFSCME, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix issued the following statement:
“With the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the Janus case, we are now one step closer to freeing over 5 million public sector teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other employees from the injustice of being forced to subsidize a union as a condition of working for their own government.
“As the Court noted in the National Right to Work Foundation’s landmark Knox v. SEIU victory, compelled speech under the guise of forced union dues is an ‘anomaly’ under the First Amendment. We are hopeful that by the end of this Supreme Court term, the High Court will finally end this anomaly and fully protect the First Amendment rights of public sector workers against an injustice that has existed for over half a century.”
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, along with attorneys with the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, are providing free legal representation to plaintiff Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Service.
Jacob Huebert, director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center, issued the following statement:
“We are pleased the Supreme Court has agreed to take up this case and revisit a 40-year-old precedent that has allowed governments to violate the First Amendment rights of millions of workers. People shouldn’t be forced to surrender their First Amendment right to decide for themselves what organizations they support just because they decide to work for the state, their local government or a public school.
“Right now, public sector employees in Illinois and many other states aren’t given a choice: They’re automatically forced to give their money to a union. Janus v. AFSCME presents an opportunity to restore fairness and First Amendment rights to millions of American workers by giving them the right to choose whether to support a union with their money.”
The case will likely be argued in early 2018 with a decision issued before the Court adjourns at the end of its term in June.
More information, including legal briefs in the case, can be found at www.nrtw.org/janus.
Obama NLRB’s “successor bar” rule blocks decertification vote, even though majority of workers want union removed
Washington, DC (September 27, 2017) – With free legal assistance from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, an Alaskan worker has asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to review a case in which she and her co-workers were denied the right to vote to remove a union claiming to represent them, despite the fact that a majority of the employees in the bargaining unit signed a petition to remove the union as their representative.
Elizabeth Chase, an employee of Apple Bus Company near Anchorage, Alaska, wants to decertify Teamsters Local 559 union officials as her monopoly bargaining agent. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), if a decertification petition garners signatures from at least 30% of the employees in a bargaining unit, the NLRB is supposed to conduct a secret-ballot election to determine whether a majority of the employees wish to decertify the union. Chase’s petition was signed by the majority of workers in the bargaining unit, far more than necessary.
However, citing the so-called “successor bar” doctrine reinstituted by the Obama Labor Board in 2011, the NLRB Regional Director blocked Chase and her coworkers from voting to remove the union. Chase had previously worked for First Student, until the school district replaced it with Apple Bus, with whom she is currently employed.
Although there is no mention of a successor bar anywhere in the NLRA itself, and the Act ostensibly is designed to give employees a choice in their representative, pro-forced unionism Labor Board members from the Clinton and Obama administrations have used the successor bar doctrine to prevent workers from removing an unwanted union after changes in ownership of the employer.
Due to the successor bar and other election bars, such as the “contract bar” and “recognition bar,” workers are regularly blocked from being able to decertify an unwanted union for up to three years. Because the successor bar can be triggered at any time, workers could be blocked for indefinite periods, and perhaps as long as four years from holding a decertification vote. This, despite the fact that workers may have only supported unionization for dealing with the previous employer. Furthermore, because Chase and her co-workers work in Alaska, a state that does not provide Right to Work protections, the NLRB Regional Director’s decision allows Teamsters officials to seek a forced fees contract that would require the payment of dues as a condition of employment.
Chase’s petition points out that so-called “successor bars” are in conflict with precedents from the Sixth and Seventh Circuit U.S. Appeals Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, all of which hold that a union’s presumption of majority support can be overcome by proof that a majority of employees do not support the union, as happened in this case.
“The successor bar doctrine has been used for too long to trap workers, like Elizabeth Chase, into paying forced dues to a union opposed by a majority of workers. The new Trump National Labor Relations Board should move quickly to end this arbitrary barrier to workers seeking a decertification vote,” said Mark Mix President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “For almost a decade, the Obama NLRB stacked the deck in favor of union bosses’ forced dues powers. The new NLRB majority should move quickly to roll back those one-sided rulings, starting by supporting the petition of Elizabeth Chase and a majority of her co-workers to hold a vote to decertify an unwanted Teamsters union.”
Union officials illegally refused to recognize a worker’s check-off revocation
Detroit, MI (September 18, 2017) With free legal assistance from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, a Lapeer county employee has won a ruling at the Michigan State Court of Appeals in a lawsuit challenging Teamsters Local 214 union officials’ illegal refusal to honor her attempt to stop payment of union dues as is her right under Michigan’s Right to Work law.
In 2013, Tina House filed an unfair labor practice charge against union officials for violating her rights under Michigan’s Right to Work protections for public employees. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) dismissed her charge, claiming union officials did not impede upon her rights. Yet, last week Michigan’s Court of Appeals overturned that decision, ruling that under section 9 of the state’s Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) Teamsters officials unlawfully refused to recognize her check-off authorization revocation.
House had been a member of Teamsters Local 214 since August 17, 2000, and had signed a dues check-off authorization permitting the union to take union dues and fees from her wages. At the time Michigan did not have a Right to Work law, meaning Michigan workers could be required to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment.
But in March 2013, Michigan’s recently passed Right to Work law went into effect, making union membership and financial support strictly voluntary. This gave House the right to stop payment of union dues and fees.
House attempted to exercise this right by sending Teamsters Local 214 union officials a membership resignation letter along with a check-off authorization revocation. She also sent a similar letter to Lapeer County, which immediately stopped deducting dues and fees from House’s paycheck.
However, Teamsters Local 214 officials responded that they were refusing to recognize her check-off withdrawal. According to the union, she could only revoke her dues check-off authorization during a narrow 15 day window period from June 1 – June 16.
In response, House filed charges against the union with MERC, which dismissed the case. Foundation staff attorneys then appealed the decision for House to the Michigan Court of Appeals which has now sided with House. In a three judge decision, the Court of Appeals overruled MERC and ruled that Teamsters officials violated the law by rejecting her revocation request. The decision requires Teamsters officials to recognize her revocation status, after a long three year legal battle.
“Rather than work to attract workers’ voluntary support, Michigan union bosses have responded to Michigan’s Right to Work law with a campaign to ignore the law and stifle any attempt by workers seeking to stop payment of union dues or fees,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Foundation staff attorneys have filed dozens of cases for Michigan workers seeking to exercise the rights guaranteed to them under Michigan’s Right to Work law and we stand ready to aid other Michiganders who want to do the same.”
Wisconsin Grocery Driver Wins Settlement with Teamsters Union Officials in Case Over Illegally Seized Union Fees
Wisconsin’s Right to Work law makes union dues payments voluntary, but union officials continued taking fees
Milwaukee, WI (September 14, 2017) – With free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, a Milwaukee employee has successfully won a settlement from Teamsters Local 200 union officials. The settlement requires that Teamsters Local 200 union officials pay the employee all union fees that were improperly seized and the subject of federal unfair labor practice charges.
Christopher Sarenac works as a driver for Roundy’s Supermarket, Inc. in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, just outside of Milwaukee. Roundy’s Supermarkets had a monopoly bargaining contract with Teamsters Local 200 until it expired on September 26, 2016. In early February 2017, Sarenac sent a letter to union officials and Roundy’s Supermarket, Inc. resigning union membership and revoking his dues check-off authorization. At this point, a new monopoly bargaining agreement between his employer and Teamsters union officials had not been reached.
Five days after resigning, Sarenac received a letter signed by Teamsters officials acknowledging his withdrawal of union membership. Roundy’s Supermarket, Inc. subsequently ceased deductions of union fees from Sarenac’s paycheck for a time but later resumed deducting fees, likely at the request of union officials.
On March 31 2017, Sarenac sent Teamster officials a letter reminding them of his nonmember status, his freedom to refrain from union payments under Wisconsin’s Right to Work law, and his check-off revocation. His letter requested clarification of the status of his revocation. Sarenac did not receive a response from union officials until after National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys filed an unfair labor practice charge for him with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in June.
In July, union officials finally responded to Sarenac’s request. However in their response, Teamsters officials claimed that he had not successfully revoked his check-off because he was outside of a five day “window period” created by union officials to block revocations. This led to the filing of a new unfair labor practice charge in August challenging the continued deduction of fees from Sarenac’s paycheck as a violation of federal labor law.
Faced with a potential NLRB prosecution, Teamsters union officials settled the cases by paying Sarenac back the amount unlawfully taken by the union from Sarenac’s wages, and union officials agreed to cease all future deductions from his paycheck.
“This case, once again, shows the lengths to which union officials will go to collect every last cent of forced fees they can, even in clear violation of the law,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Christopher Sarenac exercised his rights under Wisconsin’s Right to Work law, only to have the very union officials that claim to ‘represent’ him violate his rights. This case shows why every worker in America should have Right to Work protections that ensure that union membership and dues payment are strictly voluntary, and why it is important that those laws be vigilantly enforced.”
National Right to Work Labor Day Statement: 2017 Has Makings of Banner Year in Fight Against Forced Unionism
Government employees challenging union boss forced dues powers at the Supreme Court, while states continue to pass Right to Work laws
Springfield, VA (September 4, 2017) – Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the National Right to Work Committee, issued the following statement on the occasion of Labor Day 2017:
“This Labor Day, many Americans will enjoy a well-deserved three day weekend. After the festivities, vacations, and beach trips have ended, however many critical fights for employee freedom loom on the horizon.
“Even though polls consistently show that 8 in 10 Americans support Right to Work laws, which makes union membership and financial support strictly voluntary, every day millions of workers are forced to fund a labor union as a condition of employment. These workers are forced to face an ugly choice: pay dues to union officials they may not support or be fired.
“On this Labor Day, every American should pause to consider these victims of compulsory unionism which is embedded in many state and federal laws. Fortunately, help is on the way and they don’t stand alone.
“In over 250 cases over the past year National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys have provided free legal representation to workers who have had their rights violated. These cases show the desperate need for additional protections against Big Labor’s forced dues powers.
“One individual standing up for his rights is Illinois state worker Mark Janus. In June, he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case challenging mandatory union payments as a violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court could agree to take the case this September with a ruling coming by the end of June 2018.
“If Janus’ Foundation-provided staff attorneys are successful, 2017 may be the last Labor Day that teachers, police officers, firefighters and millions of other government employees are forced by law to fund union activities as a condition of working for their own government.
“Meanwhile, Right to Work laws continue to expand with Missouri and Kentucky being added to the list of 28 states with laws to protect workers from being fired for not paying money to a labor union. Kentucky is already seeing unprecedented levels of job creation and investment specifically because of its new Right to Work status. Unfortunately for Missouri, union bosses there have launched a campaign to block the law, meaning workers may have to wait until November 2018 to be free of forced union dues.
“Despite these big victories for worker freedom, more work remains. In addition to pushing for state Right to Work laws the National Right to Work Committee is building support in Congress for a National Right to Work Act that would eliminate portions of federal law which authorize forced dues. And even where Right to Work protections exist, workers are frequently required by law to accept a union’s so-called ‘representation,’ even if they would rather negotiate with their employer on their own merits.
“Not satisfied with these unique coercive powers, union officials continue to spend billions of dollars – much of it from the paychecks of workers who would be fired for not paying – on politics and lobbying seeking to expand their powers even further. This reminds us that even as we make historic strides, there is much work is left to do.
“On Labor Day, we should celebrate the hard-working men and women that make America the great nation it is. Properly celebrating America’s workers must include respecting each worker’s individual right to decide for themselves if joining and financially supporting a labor union is right for them. Here at the National Right to Work Committee and National Right to Work Foundation we will not rest until that freedom is fully protected.”
A video version of this statement is available here: https://youtu.be/X_7ctAhhjvE
Washington, DC (September 1, 2017) – In light of the damage and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Right to Work Committee president Mark Mix issued the following statement calling for President Trump to use the emergency suspension provision of the Davis-Bacon Act:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of Hurricane Harvey as well as the police, firefighters, first responders, and other volunteers sacrificing their well-being to help their fellow Americans. The relief efforts will require all hands on deck to help Texas and other affected areas recover.
“One step President Trump can take immediately is suspending the outdated 1931 Davis-Bacon Act. This law has the effect of limiting federally funded construction projects to politically-connected unionized firms at the expense of the 86 percent of American construction workers who choose not to affiliate with a union. After a hurricane, the federal government should not be restrained in its efforts to rebuild infrastructure based on whether or not a construction firm is unionized.
“Studies show that the Davis-Bacon Act raises construction project costs by up to 38 percent. So unless Davis-Bacon is suspended, the impact of federal aid dollars will be artificially reduced at the very time when the impact of federal aid must be maximized to quickly and efficiently help rebuild after the damage caused by Harvey.
“This call to action is not unprecedented; The law has been suspended for an emergency four times before, including by both President George W. Bush and his father President George H.W. Bush, to aid in recovery from devastation caused by hurricanes. President Trump should do the same to help Texas and other affected areas recover from what experts suggest may be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. History.”
Chicago Utility Worker Appeals Labor Board Case Against Union Officials for Illegal Forced Dues for Politics
Unfair labor practice charges allege union officials failed to follow Supreme Court precedent providing for disclosure to workers of how forced dues are spent
Chicago, IL (August 22 , 2017) – A Chicago worker, assisted by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, has appealed the dismissal of federal unfair labor practice charges against the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and UWUA Local 18007. Gerald Howard is employed by Peoples Gas in Chicago, Illinois. UWUA Local 18007 union officials have a monopoly bargaining contract in place with Peoples Gas that includes a requirement that workers can be fired for refusing to pay dues or fees to the union.
Under federal law, no worker can be forced to formally join a union. However, because Illinois is not a Right to Work state, workers can be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Under the National Right to Work Foundation-won Supreme Court case Communication Workers v. Beck, nonmember workers cannot be legally compelled to pay union dues used for union politics and member-only activities. Workers can also demand a breakdown of the dues and fees paid to see which fees are used for which purpose.
In a letter sent to UWUA Local 18007 on February 18, Howard formally resigned his membership in the UWUA and objected to paying full dues, as is his right under the Beck precedent, but UWUA Local 18007 union officials failed to acknowledge his resignation. A month later on March 15, Howard sent another letter, this time to officials at the UWUA International headquarters in Washington, DC.
In a letter dated April 3, Washington-based UWUA officials finally acknowledged Howard’s resignation and objection to paying full dues as of his February 18 letter. The UWUA official’s letter also claimed that Howard would be required to pay 90% of full union dues, but did not provide any explanation for how it arrived at that figure.
Although the UWUA later provided Howard a breakdown attempting to justify that non-chargeable activities like union political and lobbying activities only make up ten percent of full dues, further evidence suggests the figure is not accurate. In required disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor under threat of perjury, UWUA officials do not categorize political spending but their report shows multiple examples of political spending that contradict the figures in the breakdown provided to Howard after he filed his unfair labor practice charges.
“UWUA union bosses are ignoring clear Supreme Court precedent, compelling payment for union political and lobbying activities and violating the rights of a worker they claim to ‘represent’ in their grab for more forced union dues,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “This type of disregard for the rights of rank-and-file workers highlights why Illinois desperately needs a Right to Work law making union affiliation and dues payments strictly voluntary.”
Verizon Worker Hits CWA Union Officials with Labor Board Charges for Illegal $22,000 Retaliatory Fine
Union officials continue to illegally levy fines against Verizon employees who exercised right to work despite union boss-initiated strike
New York, NY (July 31, 2017) – A Brooklyn Verizon employee has filed a federal unfair labor practice charge against Communications Workers of America (CWA) union officials for violating federal labor law after she exercised her right to resign her union membership during a high-profile strike in May 2016. The charge was filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with free legal assistance provided by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys.
In April 2016, CWA union officials began a coordinated work stoppage at Verizon facilities and ordered workers up and down the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Virginia, to abandon their jobs. CWA Local 1109, which is the subject of the ULP charges, participated in the multi-state strike.
Soon after CWA union officials ordered the strike, Verizon worker Pamela Ivy, who filed the unfair labor practice charges, returned to work on April 16. On April 19, she officially resigned union membership in a letter mailed to union officials. Under federal law, workers cannot be compelled to join a union-boss ordered strike.
However, under a 1972 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling, workers must resign their formal union membership before to returning to work to protect themselves from court-enforceable union fines. Despite the fact that Ivy resigned on April 19, union officials are attempting to fine her for working after that date. Specifically, it has fined her approximately $22,000 for working through the end of May.
“Once again union officers are blatantly violating the rights of the very workers they claim to represent,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “It is outrageous that union officials are resorting to this type of ugly retaliation to ‘punish’ workers who chose to return to work in order to provide for themselves and their families.”
“The Foundation has successfully defended a number of Verizon workers in the New York area who were also threatened with sham trials and five-figure illegal fines, and we are eager to assist them and any other workers in defending their workplace rights,” added Mix.
Before this case, Foundation staff attorneys have defended fifteen Verizon workers from retaliation by CWA and IBEW union officials after the April 2016 East Coast strike. Seven of those workers were fined up to $14,000 each for exercising their federally protected rights. The remaining eight were threatened by union bosses with “union discipline” that would have resulted in similar fines. In eleven of those cases, union officials have already been forced to settle with the workers and rescind the illegal strike fines and threats.
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys help Kentucky workers defend law to ensure union membership and dues payment remain voluntary
Frankfort, KY (July 26, 2017) – With free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, a group of Kentucky workers have won a motion to intervene in the recently filed Big Labor-backed lawsuit attacking Kentucky’s new Right to Work law.
“This ruling ensures that Kentucky workers, whose rights are protected by Kentucky’s new Right to Work law, can participate in the defense of the law,” said Patrick Semmens, Vice President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Kentucky union bosses are offering spurious legal arguments in an attempt to restore their power to have workers fired for refusing to pay part of their hard-earned paycheck to a union they don’t support, and this ruling ensures that the Court will hear from pro-Right to Work Kentucky employees.”
For more information please refer to our June 29, 2017 press release on the motion to intervene.