A union can be counted on to react poorly in the face of news that its members are leaving. It may even break the law to prevent attrition. On June 20, the National Labor Relations Board, upholding an administrative court ruling, ordered International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 385 to reimburse former members for dues deducted from their paychecks after those members had submitted resignation requests. Moreover, concluded the NLRB, the union must post a message on its premises informing workers of their right to withdraw their consent to be represented. The decision was handed down amid allegations by members of the Orlando, Fla. local that their leaders have stolen funds and covered up the thefts. The international union is investigating these charges.
Teamsters Local 385 represents bus drivers and costumed characters at Walt Disney World. Yes, even Goofy, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, and the transporters of tourists to their realm, have union representation. Perhaps a more operative word these days is “had.” A growing number of rank and file members, eventually numbering in the thousands across central Florida, have been alleging that local Teamster bosses embezzled funds, created false records and obstructed efforts at an internal probe. Earlier this year, hundreds of employees of the Disney World costumes character department signed a petition requesting permission to leave Local 385 and join another union within the Service Trades Council, a coalition of six unions representing about half of the roughly 80,000 Disney World workers. “The activities currently being investigated regarding the action of the president, vice president and treasurer of our Local 385 have made us lose trust in our Union and the people running it,” read the petition. Many, in fact, have left. Therein lies the basis for the conflict.
Teamsters Local 385 leaders, unhappy about receiving a flood of letters of resignation, continued to deduct dues from ex-member paychecks, for and good measure, charging interest. Dissenting workers responded by filing a complaint with a federal Administrative Law Judge. The judge ruled that the dues assessments constituted an unfair labor practice. The union appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, which on June 20 upheld the decision. The union, concluded the board, “repeatedly and deliberately” failed to accommodate the workers’ request to stop dues deductions. As a remedy, the NLRB ordered Local 385 leaders to reimburse the former members for the deductions and to post the following on-premises notice: “We will not fail and refuse to honor your requests to resign your union membership. We will not in any like or related manner restrain or coerce you in the exercise of the rights listed above.”
Neither Local 385 President Clay Jeffries nor the union’s lawyer, Tom Pilacek, were available for comment after the decision. But Patrick Semmens, vice president of the Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, had this to say:
This ruling is an important victory for workers over scofflaw Teamster officials who, as the Board found, repeatedly and deliberately, violated the rights of the very workers they purport to “represent.” Despite what union bosses may wish, federal labor law permits workers to resign from union membership, and Florida’s Right to Work law means that workers in the state have the right to cut off financial support for a union completely. That the Board majority agreed with the Administrative Law Judge that the union be required to notify the thousands of affected employees through a mailing, rather than just a notice posting, is further evidence of the widespread infringement of workers’ rights by these Teamsters officials.
This case evolved amid the turmoil over a simmering pay dispute between Disney management and the six unions that make up the Service Trades Council. This January, following passage of the Trump administration tax cut, Disney announced that it would provide a $1,000 bonus for all eligible employees. But shortly thereafter, during contract negotiations, Disney announced that it would cancel the bonus if the 38,000 affected council members did not approve a company-proposed contract by August 31, an offer effectively identical to one rejected by members last December. The unions in February responded to this gesture by filing an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. Corporate officials are resolute in believing that their offer is reasonable. “Our offer to increase pay by six to 10 percent over the next two years reflects our ongoing commitment to our cast members,” said Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger. “Wages and bonuses are part of our negotiation process. We will continue to meet with the union to move toward a ratified agreement.” Teamsters Local 385 might not like losing members to a rival council union, but it is the right of members to leave. And those departures will have been justified more than ever if evidence shows that local bosses had been dipping into the dues till.