On March 25, 2020, two Minnesota building materials employees won a settlement in their unfair labor practice cases charging their former place of employment, OMG Midwest, for illegally terminating their employment after the workers refused to join the Teamsters Local 120 union. The two workers charged that the company and union officials falsely told them on several occasions that union membership was required as a condition of employment. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorney provided free legal aid throughout this process.
As a consequence of this settlement, OMG Midwest will now pay over $30,000 in back pay to the two men. Additionally, they will “remove all references to the termination” from the two employees’ personnel files, post notices at OMG’s Belle Plaine, Minnesota, facility, and hand out those notices to individual employees. The notices will inform workers that they cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. Charges filed against the union for violating the two workers’ rights have yet to be settled.
According to his account of the events that transpired, James Connolly asked Teamsters officials via email on April 9, 2019, whether or not he would be forced to join the union as part of the job. The same day a union official wrongly responded, “Sorry James but yes you do have to join.” Then, on May 1, a representative of OMG Midwest repeated the same false information to Connolly. Connolly responded to the company in a May 9 email, in which he stated again that he won’t join the Teamsters. OMG Midwest fired Connolly the following day. In response, Connolly filed unfair labor practice charges against OMG Midwest and the Teamsters union at National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 18 with help from the Foundation.
In June of that year, Charles Winter filed similar charges against OMG Midwest and the Teamsters union. Winter recounted in his charges that at a company-wide meeting a Teamsters representative had informed him and other employees that union membership is mandatory in order to acquire or maintain a job. When Winter later received an email from a company representative repeating the false information that union membership was obligatory, Winter responded on May 20 standing his ground and refusing to join. He was then fired in an email from the same company representative on that very day.
Winter’s charge also charges that the union membership form that Teamsters officials sent him did not feature a legally-required estimate of the reduced union fees that union nonmembers would have to pay under the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision.
According to both men’s charges, misinformation about membership and their firings were clear violations of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which defends the “right to refrain from any or all” union activities. Winter also alleged that the union infringed on his right under Beck to not be a union member and partially pay union dues directly relevant to bargaining. As part of the settlement, OMG Midwest is mandated to include “a Notice of Beck Rights” in the rights notices it will give to all bargaining unit employees.
Because Minnesota is not a Right-to-Work state, union bosses can fire private sector workers for not paying dues to a union. However, union officials can only compel workers to pay the portion of dues permitted by Beck and comply with certain Beck procedures before confiscating such forced fees from workers who do not belong to a union.
“Although it’s good news that Mr. Connolly and Mr. Winter have won these settlements which require OMG Midwest to make reparations for violating long-standing worker protections, the fact is that Mr. Connolly’s and Mr. Winter’s charges against the Teamsters union are still pending,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “NLRB Region 18 must swiftly prosecute Teamsters Local 120 officials so these two men’s rights can be fully vindicated.”
Mix added: “Ultimately, Minnesota legislators need to pass Right to Work protections for their state’s private-sector employees which will ensure that union bosses must use persuasion – not illegal intimidation or threats of firing – to secure the support of workers.”