(The Center Square) – A Bay Area construction materials worker alleges she was fired for refusing to join the International Union of Operating Engineers and has filed federal charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Aleandra Le, a firestop inspector, alleges that the company she works for, Construction Testing Services, deducted union dues directly from her paycheck without her permission, and that “IOUE bosses illegally demanded she join the union as a condition of keeping her job and instigated her firing by CTS when she refused to join.”
In California, it is legal for private sector workers to be forced to pay some union dues as a condition of maintaining employment, even if they decline formal union membership. In CWA v. Beck, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that union officials could force nonmembers to pay some dues to cover bargaining activities, but that nonmembers could not be forced to pay for activities beyond bargaining, such as union participation in politics. However, even though workers can be forced to pay something to unions as beneficiaries of bargaining agreements, existing law does allow workers to decline formal membership while maintaining employment, and require union bosses to seek express consent from workers before deducting dues directly from their paychecks.
Le says IUOE officials never told her of her right to abstain from membership, or of her right to pay lower union dues as a nonmember.
“It’s outrageous that IUOE union officials believe they can get me fired simply because I don’t agree with their organization and don’t want to support or affiliate with them,” Le said. “IUOE union officials have been far more concerned with consolidating power in the workplace and collecting dues than caring about me and my coworkers, and I hope the NLRB will hold them responsible for their illegal actions.”
The National Right to Work Foundation, which is providing free legal aid to Le, successfully brought CWA v. Beck to trial and assists workers nationwide, and argues Le is protected under NLRB v. General Motors Corp., in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled workers were protected from refusing formal union membership.
“Le’s charges show that IUOE union officials, in their apparent greed for forced dues, have ignored numerous longstanding legal protections for workers opposed to union affiliation,” commented Right to Work president Mark Mix. “No worker should be forced to give any amount of their hard-earned paycheck to union officials who threaten and misinform the employees they claim to ‘represent,’ or simply haven’t earned workers’ support.”
When asked by The Center Square if the NWRF sought out this case, Mix said the worker came to them, and that the foundation is typically engaged in over 200 cases nationwide, many of them just like this.
“What’s really frustrating is we have to continue to litigate cases like this when the law and precedents from the court couldn’t be clearer. One of the things unions count on is employees don’t understand their rights, continued Mix. “Union officials have no incentive to inform workers on these things.”
Le is seeking an “injunction from a federal court to stop IUOE and CTS management from committing the unfair labor practices.”
The local IOUE responded but did not have anyone available for comment by the time of publication.