Employees Hit Union with Federal Charges After Being Slapped with $120,000 in Illegal Retaliatory Fines
Union officials levy confiscatory fines after employees exercised rights to resign from formal union membership and worked to eject union
Oostburg, WI (January 7, 2008) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, four Pre-Heat, Inc. employees have filed federal charges against the Sheet Metal Workers International Association union for exorbitant and illegal retaliatory fines levied against them.
The employees, led by Patrick Keefe, filed the unfair labor practice charges at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Sheet Metal Workers Local 18. Union officials hit them with fines of $30,000 each after they resigned their formal union membership and returned to work during a union-ordered strike. Nonunion members are not subject to internal union discipline.
Following their resignations, Keefe and his coworkers also began gathering signatures for a decertification election, an NLRB-supervised secret ballot election to oust a union, which is generally an uphill battle for workers to obtain. However, the employees’ efforts resulted in a majority of employees signing the petition to oust the unpopular union, and Pre-Heat, Inc. then withdrew recognition from the union because it no longer had the employees’ support.
After the strike ended, in November 2007, union officials ordered Keefe and his four coworkers to attend a Sheet Metal Workers union internal kangaroo court held for the purpose of punishing them for exercising their legal rights. Union agent Patrick Landgraf charged the employees with violating the union’s constitution. In his written statement during the union trial, Landgraf claimed Keefe and the others “selfishly crossed” the picket line for “this rat contractor” and accused the employees of preventing the union from obtaining a new contract. Landgraf did not mention that his union had been resoundingly rejected by the workers.
Because they were not members of the union, Keefe and the other employees chose not to show up at the “trial.” In their absence, the union’s Executive Board found the employees “guilty” of all charges, fining them a total of $120,000. Sheet Metal Workers union officials ordered Keefe and the three other workers to pay the illegally imposed fines within 30 days.
“It is unconscionable for union bosses to attempt to drive workers into the poorhouse in vicious retaliation for returning to work,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “This union intimidation is all too common in states like Wisconsin where there is no Right to Work law on the books.”
A Right to Work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. The NLRB’s Regional Office will now investigate the charges and decide whether to issue a formal complaint and prosecute the union.