November 4, 2020 proved to be a luck day for two Bon Appetit food service workers at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. That day they won a settlement in their case accusing UNITE HERE Local 8 union bosses of hindering their right to not join a union. National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys helped provide legal counsel to the workers.
Back in August 2018, Bon Appetit employees Terry Denton and Alejandro Martinez Cuevas filed charges at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against UNITE HERE Local 8. They argued that the lack of information the union provided were infringements on the rights they enjoy under the National Labor Relations Act and the CWA v. Beck U.S. Supreme Court decision, which the Foundation previously won.
Due to Oregon’s lack of a Right to Work law, private sector employees who refuse to formally join a union can be forced to pay some union fees as a condition of employment. However, union officials must still comply with the requirements of the Beck decision and cannot mandate workers to pay dues or fees for activities not connected to the union’s bargaining functions, such as union political activities.
The Regional Director for NLRB Region 19 issued a formal complaint against UNITE HERE officials back in August 2019. This complaint was brought about after a memo from the NLRB General Counsel’s office which suggested that the Regions where the NLRB requires union bosses to inform all workers of Beck fee reductions.
Union bosses and the Regional Director made an attempt to resolve this case without providing a solution for all members of the bargaining unit. Originally, this settlement obligated union officials to publish notices announcing that they would let employees know of the reduction in union dues that would come about if they exercised their Beck rights. However, it did not require the union to provide employees who had received the notice the ability to retroactively withdraw from their union memberships and recover the dues that were illegally seized from them.
Denton and Martinez Cuevas rejected the terms of the settlement agreement. They filed charges for themselves and their fellow co-workers, who they believed were entitled to assert their rights.
Despite the two employees’ disagreements with the settlement, the Regional Director ended up approving the settlement. Foundation staff attorneys then filed an appeal to the NLRB General Counsel, which was upheld in November 2019. The General Counsel’s decision spelled out how the original settlement agreement did “not provide an appropriate remedy” and instructed Region 19 to proceed with the charges.
Recognizing the potential threat of another prosecution by the NLRB, UNITE HERE officials withdrew their efforts and resolved the case with a more complete remedy. From now on, union officials must provide notices letting all employees, current and future, know of the reduction that will be made to their union dues if they opt to not be union members. UNITE HERE officials will additionally reimburse current employees who withdraw their union memberships retroactively for union dues that they have paid that are above the nonmember rate.
“Although it’s good news that after over two years Ms. Denton and Mr. Martinez Cuevas have finally vindicated their and their coworkers’ right under Beck to refrain from funding union political activities as a condition of employment, no worker in America should be forced to accept or pay for one-size-fits-all union boss ‘representation’ that they do not want,” stated National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “All American workers need Right to Work protections, which put the decision to join and financially support union activities exactly where it should be – in the hands of individual workers.”