Labor Board Rebukes Union for Threatening Worker

Biden admin withdrew fed support for worker threatened by union

Union workers picket near the entrance to an AT&T facility as the Communications Workers of America strike against the company alleging AT&T management engaged in unfair labor practices during contract negotiations on Aug. 26, 2019 in Miami, Florida. / Getty Images
September 6, 2021

A federal labor agency ruled against a local subsidiary of the Communications Workers of America after it threatened a worker who requested to resign his membership—dealing a blow to the Biden administration, which attempted to squash the case.  

Jeremy Brown, an ABC cameraman in Oregon, accused the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians Local 51 of illegally taking money from his paycheck after he opted out of paid dues. Rather than honor his request, the union threatened to take legal action against Brown if he did not surrender personal data ranging from his pedometers to his vehicle GPS. The case drew the attention of the federal government's top labor prosecutor, National Labor Relations Board general counsel Peter Robb, in 2019. Agency regulators, however, abandoned the case weeks after President Joe Biden took the unprecedented step of firing Robb on Inauguration Day.

The National Labor Relations Board, the top federal labor arbiter, agreed with the Trump appointee and ruled that the union violated federal law and ordered it to reimburse Brown his paid dues. 

"There is no legitimate reason for a party to send its own evidence-preservation letter in these circumstances, let alone ones as sweeping and intimidating as the [union’s]. And even had there been some legitimate reason to send additional evidence-preservation letters, the [union’s] threats for failure to comply would remain unjustified," the ruling said. 

The general counsel's office sets the agenda for the enforcement of federal labor law, and its support can provide a crucial boost for workers or unions that appear before the NLRB. Biden handed that responsibility over to Jennifer Abruzzo, a former attorney for the CWA, in July. An agency spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon it has consulted with its ethics office on how to handle any potential recusal obligations, but did not specify what the policy would look like in practice. The agency declined to say whether Abruzzo was aware of Brown's case.

Labor watchdogs said the ruling represents a temporary setback for Biden's labor agenda. Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which represented Brown in the case, said he was distressed when the Biden administration and then-acting general counsel Peter Ohr dropped Brown's complaint. 

"This is them just trying to protect their guys in the D.C. bubble," Mix told the Free Beacon. "I don’t think the road is going to get any easier. In fact, it’s going to get a lot tougher—and I expect that by the time this is over, the individual rights of the individual workers in this country will be rolled back significantly."

Brown, who has worked on and off for ABC since 1999, said he only joined the union in 2018 after new union leadership told him he would be fired otherwise. Union officials taunted him in written communications, saying, "we can keep doing this forever," in reference to his legal battle with the union. Brown welcomed the ruling but was disappointed to see his rights violated by the people who claim to represent him. 

"Not paying for union politics is my right, and it never should have been so difficult to exercise that right," Brown told the Free Beacon. "While I’m thankful for this victory, it’s outrageous that just for trying to defend my basic freedoms I encountered fierce opposition from union bosses who claim to ‘represent’ me but don’t respect my rights."

Local 51 declined to comment.