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NLRB Complaint: Fed Employees Union Violates Worker Rights

NAGE accused of keeping workers in the dark

Fort Leonard Wood / AP
• November 14, 2014 4:00 pm

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A former local union leader is accusing the country’s largest federal workers union of failing to inform workers of their constitutional rights to opt out of the union.

Kimsha Rosensteel, an 11-year food service worker for a military contractor at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, said that her local chapter of the SEIU-affiliated National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) "kept employees in the dark about their rights" regarding union membership.

"I was told that we’re supposed to keep workers uneducated. The more uneducated, the better because it would cost the union money if workers found out" about alternatives to membership, she said.

Rosensteel served as president of NAGE Local R15-139 for 18 months before being driven from office in 2013. When she assumed office in 2012, she began studying federal labor law and discovered that workers had the right to opt out of full union dues through agency fees and break ties with NAGE as religious objectors.

"I did not know these laws even existed. I was told I had to join the union just to work. If I knew I never would have joined," she said.

When she brought the information to other NAGE personnel, "it was a disaster," she said. They allegedly told her to "keep workers in the dark" about these laws. She persisted in getting the information out to the 800 fellow service workers on base.

"I told them I couldn’t sit there and lie and keep them in the dark," she said.

The union soon convened an internal hearing to drive her from office, alleging that she had violated union bylaws. They successfully removed her from her position after a "show trial" and followed up with a "smear campaign," telling her coworkers that she was a thief and a liar, according to Rosensteel.

Not every employee was buying the union’s spin. Within months of Rosensteel’s ouster, 16 union members requested to resign from the union and pay agency fees, which do not cover union expenses such as political lobbying. NAGE leadership failed to honor those requests, according to an Oct. 31 complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board, the nation’s top labor arbiter.

"Respondent Union, by letters signed by Trustee Lee Blackmon, refused to accept the membership resignations of the employees," the complaint says. "Respondent Union has continued to seek from each of the employees … as a condition of his continued employment with Respondent EDP, dues and fees for nonrepresentational activities."

The NLRB accused the union of failing to inform workers of their Beck Rights, failing to disclose their financial calculation of agency fee payments, and of seeking retribution against Rosensteel.

When the former union official attempted to break ties with the union as a religious objector, the company "threatened to discharge Rosensteel for nonpayment of dues."

"EDP engaged in the conduct described above … because Rosensteel engaged in dissident union activities and other protected concerted activities and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities," the complaint said.

Rosensteel said she has attempted to direct her agency fee payment of about $450 to a charity, a right she’s entitled to as a religious objector. She chose the Wounded Warriors Project to honor her husband, an active duty soldier who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said the union refused and instead gave her a list of Washington, D.C., charities affiliated with labor groups.

"These members haven’t received anything from the union. They’re just a source of money to [the NAGE]," Rosensteel said. "They care nothing for these workers or for the military."

The NLRB’s complaint recommends that the union and company "reimburse, with interest," all dues payments made by dissidents since Dec. 27, 2013, as well as inform all workers of their right to opt out of the union.

The Nation Right to Work Foundation is assisting Rosensteel with the case. Foundation president Mark Mix said that the case underscores the importance of establishing right-to-work laws in the states to prevent workers from being forced into unions without informing them of their other options.

"It is unconscionable that NAGE union bosses are actively obstructing workers from exercising their statutory rights and then work with company management to cover it up," Mix said in a statement.

NAGE did not respond to request for comment. Calls to Local R14-139 went unanswered. An attorney for EDP Enterprises said that Ms. Rosensteel’s case was between "her and her union" and declined further comment.

The NLRB will hold an administrative hearing on Jan. 12.

Published under: Unions