2 employees file unfair labor practice charges against local Teamster union officials

Two employees of an Auburn-based transportation, storage and mail delivery manufacturer and supplier have filed unfair labor practice charges against local Teamster union officials, alleging that the officials threatened them with imminent termination.

Gayle May and Patricia Allen, employees of Alan Ritchey, Inc., 22 30th St. NE., allege that officials of Tukwila-based Teamster Local 117 sent them a letter that gave them only days to exercise their legal rights to refrain from paying union dues spent for non-bargaining activities, even though the women claim they had already exercised those rights.

Upon receipt of the letter, May and Allen contacted the National Right to Work Foundation, whose attorneys filed the charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office in Seattle on their behalf and on behalf of dozens of other Alan Ritchey employees.

Exercising their rights under the 1988 Supreme Court decision Communication Workers of America v. Beck (1988), May and Allen objected to formal, dues-paying union membership. Beck holds that employees cannot be forced to join a union or maintain membership in a union to keep their jobs. Employees who are subject to a union security clause and decide not to be union members can object to the use of their union dues for purposes that are unrelated to representational activities such as collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment.

Employees who object to paying for such activities may be entitled to a refund and appropriate reduction of future payments.

May and Allen allege:

• That Teamster Local 117 union bosses – citing a new contract between the union and their employer – have bullied them with threats of fines and termination unless they “reiterate” their intentions to exercise their rights under Beck. They claim employees who exercise their right to refrain from full dues paying union membership are not required to “reiterate” or “renew” their status.

• That Local 117 officials sent the employees a letter declaring they had only a few days to act or they would be fired. Furthermore, May and Allen say the letter did not explain how they were to do it.

Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said, "It is clear that Local 117 union bosses are employing a new form of illegal harassment aimed at purging independent-minded employees from the workplace."

Over the years, May and Allen have filed other charges against the union over what they allege has been a campaign of retaliation and harassment against employees who exercise their Beck rights.

Union spokesman Leonard Smith said nobody has been threatened or bullied.

What happened, he said, is that Alan Ritchey, Inc. withdrew its recognition of the union, which is what happens when an employer says it has reason to believe a majority of the employees don't want to have a union. The company took that step based on a petition that the employees had signed, Smith said, and the NLRB said the action was lawful.

"We heard from the employees that they didn't know what they were signing, that they were intimidated or coerced into signing that petition, so we asked the NLRB to hold an election," Smith said. "At that election, a majority of the employees voted to keep the union. What that means legally now is that we had a brand new bargaining unit, in other words, a brand-new certification.That means that at that point we are legally obligated to treat them all as brand-new members, and we have to go to each of them and say, 'Do you want to maintain your member status, or do you want to go to this core status?'

(Core is the right granted by the Supreme Court not to join a union.)

"We can't make an assumption that those that were full members wanted to maintain full membership or those that were core members wanted to retain their core status," Smith continued. "We had to ask everybody, so we did. We have gotten about 20 of these applications in today, and people are responding without any difficulty at all. We haven't removed anybody from the job, there've been no threats or anything like that. What we told them in the letter was that if they didn't comply one way or the other we could start the process that would remove them from the job, and that's part of the union security provision."

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