Correction 12:17 P.M.: An earlier version of this story identified the wrong SEIU local at the center of the case. The NLRB is pursuing charges against only SEIU United Healthcare Workers West.
A California union stands accused of illegally forcing a nurse’s aide to pay dues without informing him of his right to opt out of membership.
Guillermo Cornejo said in a complaint that Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West failed to properly notify him of his Beck Rights when he started work at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in 2012. When he bucked at handing over nearly two percent of his paycheck to pay dues, the union attempted to get him fired, according to the National Labor Relations Board, the country’s top labor arbiter.
"Respondent [SEIU] failed to inform Charging Party [Cornejo] that he has a right to be or remain a nonmember," the NLRB complaint says. "Respondent has been restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed…[and] has been attempting to cause an employer to discriminate against its employees."
The union did not respond to a request for comment.
Cornejo supplied the agency with a copy of a letter penned by union officials upon his hiring in March 2012.
"You are automatically a member of the union," the letter, dated March 12, says. "The Contract between Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center and SEIU-UHW requires all represented employees to satisfy certain financial obligations to the union."
SEIU-UHW represents about 140,000 workers in the healthcare industry. The union charges workers a $100 initiation fee, as well as 2 percent of earnings "with a minimum monthly rate of $32.00 ($14.77 per biweekly paycheck) and a maximum monthly rate of $110.00," according to the letter sent to Cornejo.
The union collected nearly $110 million in dues in 2014, according to federal labor filings.
Cornejo filed the charges with assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
"SEIU officials ignored the law to force new employees into full dues-paying union ranks," Patrick Semmens, the foundation’s vice president, said in a statement.
This is not the first time a SEIU-UHW has fun afoul of laws allowing healthcare workers to opt out of full dues. In 2013, 200 nurses successfully sued the union for coercing them into the union following a hospital merger in Thousand Oaks. The same foundation represented those workers at the center of the suit.
Semmens said that the labor regulator did the right thing, adding that California lawmakers can take further steps to protect workers rights. California allows forced unionism, in which all workers must pay union dues or partial agency fees as a condition of employment.
"We’re happy to report that the NLRB has finally taken action to hold SEIU bosses accountable for this injustice, but similar union practices will continue until California adopts a Right to Work law, which would make union membership and dues payments strictly voluntary," Semmens said in the release.
The NLRB General Counsel’s office is seeking to address the situation by posting proper notices of Beck Rights around the workplace and informing Cornejo and other workers "who have not applied for Union membership, that they are not considered to be members of the Union unless and until they apply."
The agency will hold a hearing at its Los Angeles regional office on November 2.