A Wisconsin labor union is being sued after blocking union members from exercising their rights to leave the union.
Several employees at Northern Engraving Corp, a Sparta, Wisc.-based manufacturer, filed unfair labor practice charges against the company and International Association of Machinists Lodge No. 1771 for preventing them from resigning their union membership after Wisconsin became the nation’s 25th right to work state in 2015. They say that both parties ignored or dismissed their requests to cut ties with the union.
"Within the past six months Charging Party and other employees have sent the Union and the Employer letters resigning from the Union and its affiliates and revoking their dues check off authorizations," the complaint says. "All such letters and the requests therein have been rejected or ignored, and dues continue to be deducted from the Charging Party’s and other employees’ wages."
The employees filed the charges with legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. They allege that the company and union have continued to remove portions of the workers’ wages despite their right to opt out of the union. The workers contend that their membership in the union is "no longer valid," since right to work laws bar employers from making union participation a condition of employment.
"Northern Engraving Corp. continues to deduct dues from the Charging Party and other employees even though they are no longer members of the Union," the complaint says.
Neither the union, nor the company returned request for comment.
The union represents about 300 workers who pay $50 initiation fees, as well as $48 to $52 per month in dues. The union collected more than $4,000 in dues and $9,300 in "other receipts," according to its most recent federal labor disclosures. More than $10,000 of the $13,576 it collected in revenue was spent on paying officer and employee salaries at the union office.
Right to Work Foundation spokesman Patrick Semmens said such lawsuits are common when right to work goes into effect as unions attempt to maintain their presence in the workplace and the cash-flow of dues. It has won similar cases in Michigan when it filed complaints against the UAW for requiring employees to show up at union headquarters personally with photo identification in order to sever ties.
"The passage of Wisconsin’s Right to Work law was a significant victory for employee rights," Semmens said in a release. "However, Wisconsin workers will only benefit if their rights to refrain from union membership and the payment of union dues are vigorously enforced. That’s why we stepped in to take this case."
The foundation is seeking out employees who face similar obstacles to exercising their rights.
"Any other Wisconsin employee who faces obstructionist tactics when attempting to exercise his or her right to leave a union and stop paying union dues should contact the National Right to Work Foundation immediately for free legal assistance," he said.