Workers File Complaints Alleging Grocers Union Trying to Coerce Dues Money

Workers in three states accuse UFCW of disclosure violations

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Workers across the country are filing federal complaints alleging that an influential union is trying to coerce dues money while ignoring federal law.

Three workers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have accused their local unions of ignoring their requests for financial information; two have further accused labor officials of thwarting their attempts to resign membership. The workers are dissenting employees seeking to pay partial dues known as agency fees that cover expenses for representation, but allow them to abstain from financing the group's political activities. The complaints allege that union leaders in California, New York, and Oregon are breaking the mandates established by the Supreme Court in 1988's Beck v. Communication Workers of America, which requires labor groups to provide employees with detailed breakdowns of union budget to ensure that their money is being properly spent.

All three workers have filed unfair labor practice complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the top federal labor arbiter overseeing union elections and workplace disputes. The latest charge was filed against the New York-based UFCW Local 2013 on Thursday. The woman says the union has failed to address her October 2018 request to cut off her membership and become an agency fee payer.

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"Charging party resigned her union membership and objected to pay the full equivalent of full dues," the complaint says. "The union has failed to respond to her letter by providing her with the requisite audit breakdown it is required to perform upon an employee resigning his membership and objecting to paying the equivalent of full dues."

That charge echoed recent complaints filed against UFCW Local 5 of California and Local 555 of Oregon. Neither the local unions, nor the national UFCW responded to requests for comment about the allegations and disclosure policies.

The unions do not often have to deal with dissenters. Local 5 only had 24 agency fee payers in 2018 compared to 25,497 full members, Local 555 had 29 amid 22,195, while Local 2013 had zero in its ranks of more than 14,000 workers. In 2018, the unions combined to raise $34.8 million from their workforce. They spent more than $570,000 on political activities and lobbying for the year, according to federal labor filings.

The workers are being represented with assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The foundation said issues of dark money in the labor movement and resistance to transparency are rife. It pointed to the fact that all three states allow coercive unionism in which employers can mandate paying union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The group said the fact that the complaints have come from strangers located across the country suggest that there are "widespread violations of workers' legal rights by UFCW union officials."

Foundation president Mark Mix said giving workers the choice in whether they want to support a labor organization would prevent disputes about how money is spent and safeguard their rights.

"UFCW union bosses are willing to violate the rights of the very workers they claim to represent, just to fill their coffers with more forced union dues," Mix said in a statement. "These cases show why workers nationwide need the protection of Right to Work laws, which make union membership and dues payment strictly voluntary. As long as union officials can force workers to pay even a portion of full union dues as a condition of employment, greedy Big Labor bosses will continue to cook the books and keep workers in the dark."