News Release

Cameraman Challenges Pervasive Entertainment Industry Scheme to Force Workers into Union Ranks

Union bosses threatened to blacklist a nonunion worker unless he joined the union and paid an exorbitant initiation fee

New York, NY (January 16, 2009) – Today, National Right to Work Foundation attorneys filed unfair labor practice charges for an independent cameraman who was threatened with blacklisting unless he joined a union and paid a $5,950 initiation fee.

The case challenges a common, though illegal, practice in the entertainment industry that union officials use to compel actors, employees, and independent contractors to join or pay dues to a union even though they have not continuously worked for an individual employer for the 30 days required by statute.

Brian Johnson, a cameraman employed by ESPN, is occasionally designated as a "daily hire" for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) when ABC broadcasts ESPN sports programming. ABC and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians Local 16 - Communication Workers of America (NABET-CWA) union are party to a monopoly bargaining agreement that governs terms of employment for freelance workers. Under this agreement, workers employed by ABC for 20 days in a year or more than 30 days over a two year period are required to become union members.

However, federal law states that employees cannot be legally forced into a union’s monopoly bargaining ranks unless they work for 30 consecutive days for a single employer. Johnson was never employed by ABC for longer than the prescribed 30 day period. Nevertheless, NABET-CWA Local 16 ordered him to join the union on December 3, 2008.

Union officials also informed Johnson that formal union membership was a condition of future employment with ABC. Under the Foundation-won Supreme Court precedent Communication Workers v. Beck, however, employees cannot be compelled become formal, full dues-paying union members as a condition of employment. Workers can be forced to pay certain union fees related to workplace bargaining.

Adding insult to injury, union officials attempted to extract an exorbitant “union initiation fee” of $5,950 from Johnson.

“Even though the entertainment unions’ ‘30 days in two years’ standard has no basis in law, union bosses frequently use this rule to extort money from freelance and part-time workers,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation.

“This kind of union dues shake-down scheme is all too common in the entertainment business, and we aim to stop it,” added Gleason. “Workers should be free to decide for themselves whether or not to join a union – and they certainly shouldn’t be shoved into union ranks just to keep a job.”

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, is assisting thousands of employees in over 200 cases nationwide.

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