A New York City union violated federal labor law when it threatened to sue members petitioning to withdraw their membership.
The New York regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, the top federal agency that oversees labor law and union elections, ruled that Communication Workers of America Local 1109 committed an unfair labor practice in reaction to an effort to decertify the union.
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"By threatening to sue employees for their activities in soliciting signatures for a decertification petition Respondent Communication Workers of America Local 1109, AFL–CIO has engaged in unfair labor practices affecting commerce," administrative law judge Mindy Landow said in the ruling.
A union official confronted one of three workers who solicited member signatures on a petition to withdraw from the union at a company barbecue. The woman insisted that "people signed [the petition] of their own fruition," leading the union official to threaten her.
"I just want you to understand, to be perfectly clear that CWA we’re probably going to personally sue y’all," the official said.
"It’s not y’all. Y’all are suing Cablevision. I don’t give a fuck about Cablevision," the worker responded.
"No, no, we’re not going after Cablevision, we’re going after y’all personally," the official responded.
The union argued to the agency that the threat of lawsuit was an "isolated" incident. It also asked for the case to be thrown out after the official at the center of it penned a letter saying the dispute was a matter of "obvious confusion." Union president Tony Spina told the Washington Free Beacon that he was unaware of the decision, saying that local attorneys were handling the matter.
"The cases are all gone now. The cases will be gone," he said. "This is not something I want to talk about. I don’t know you," Spina added, before hanging up the phone.
The union must now post notices on the premises assuring workers that it will not try to interfere with efforts to withdraw. The NLRB ordered the union to "cease and desist" from using the threat of lawsuits to intimidate members.
"WE WILL NOT threaten to sue you for your activities in soliciting signatures for a decertification petition. WE WILL NOT in any like or related manner restrain or coerce you the company at the heart in the exercise of the rights listed above," the sign will say.
Local 1109 represents more than 2,000 communication workers, including employees at Verizon—of a major union dispute—and Cablevision. Members pay two percent of their salaries in dues to the union, which collected more than $3 million, according to its most recent federal labor filings. The union spent more than $750,000 on overhead, administrative costs, and political activities in 2015.
The union can appeal the decision to the agency’s five-member national panel in Washington, D.C. Democrats enjoy a 3-2 majority on that panel.