On March 12, 2020, a worker at the St. Elmo, Illinois, ConAgra Foods facility won a settlement in his case against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881 union. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation provided the worker with free legal aid.
The employee, Tracy May, accused UFCW officials of falsely telling workers that union membership was mandatory as a condition of employment at the plant, and of not informing employees about their rights to reject formal union membership and pay only the amount of union dues pertinent to bargaining purposes. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 14 approved the settlement in St. Louis.
The settlement makes UFCW union officials fully inform employees of their rights to both abstain from union membership and pay reduced dues, and also to give employees “information setting forth the percentage of the reduction in dues and fees charged to” those who are not members of a union, which includes how they based the calculation of that percentage. UFCW officials must also stop telling “employees that they are required to provide their social security number” to have dues seized from their paychecks, and that “filing charges with the NLRB could result in imprisonment.”
May filed his unfair labor practice charge against UFCW leaders back in October 2019. His charge argued that union bosses had been “telling employees that joining the union and/or paying dues is a condition of employment” since they signed off on a monopoly bargaining contract with ConAgra.
In addition, the charge also noted that he and his coworkers were never “given valid, written, and adequate notice” of their right to withdraw from union membership according to the NLRB v. General Motors Supreme Court decision, and their right to pay only union dues directly connected to bargaining in accordance to the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision. UFCW officials also never gave them an independent audit of the union’s expenses, a form of document required under Beck.
Because Illinois has no Right to Work protections for employees, union bosses can fire private sector workers for not paying fees to a union. However, union officials can only demand that workers pay the portion of dues allowed under Beck and must follow Beck guidelines before seizing such forced fees from workers who do not belong to the union.
Employees at the St. Elmo ConAgra plant launched litigation against the UFCW Local 881 bosses last year. At that time, bosses tried to block a petition for a vote to remove the union that an employee, Robert Gentry, submitted. This petition also came with free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys.
In that case, union bosses originally claimed that a settlement they had previously negotiated with ConAgra should have rescinded the decertification effort, in accordance to the NLRB’s non-statutory “settlement bar” which provides unions with immunity from decertification efforts for a period of time after an employer and a union reach a settlement. Furthermore, they also filed “blocking charges” against ConAgra in another attempt to stall the vote. The Regional Director originally let UFCW bosses halt the vote, but the full NLRB in Washington reversed that decision and ordered the Region to let the vote continue.
“Although Mr. May’s victory is certainly good news, UFCW bosses continue to demonstrate a disturbing practice of disregarding the rights of the very workers they claim to represent,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Because Illinois lacks a Right to Work law ensuring all worker payments to unions are strictly voluntary, union bosses have every incentive to demand union dues from workers beyond what the law permits.”
Mix continued, “Under Right to Work laws like those in effect in 27 states, the decision to join or pay fees to a union is fully in the hands of individual employees, and union bosses must use persuasion – not coercion or deception – to secure the support of those they claim to represent.”