NLRB General Counsel Rules on Behalf of Harassed Workers

Pressuring employees into giving a union permission to deduct dues from paychecks is a common practice. This “dues checkoff,” however, soon may become uncommon. On July 12, the National Labor Relations Board’s Office of the General Counsel, in separate cases, announced that it had ruled on behalf of two workers who refused to sign dues authorization forms as a condition of employment. The employees, Kacy Warner, a Kansas City-area nurse, and Shelby Krocker, a West Virginia supermarket employee, each experienced union retaliation. Their cases previously had been dismissed by an NLRB regional office. The West Virginia case is especially disturbing because the legislature in that state a few years ago enacted a Right to Work law barring unions from exacting such payments.

Kacy Warner is a nurse at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri who was dissatisfied with the representation that she and fellow employees had been getting from their affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU). Though Ms. Warner was not a union member, she was forced to pay “fair share” (or “agency”) dues to the union to retain her job. Acting on this conviction, she attempted to collect signatures sufficient for the purpose of triggering an NLRB-supervised decertification election. Union leaders from Missouri and Kansas chapters, in response, told her and a co-worker that they must sign a dues checkoff form, though without providing either with an alternative.

Warner, undeterred, filed a grievance with the appropriate NLRB regional office. The office dismissed the case. Given the evidence, it shouldn’t have. According to the complaint: “Union agents stood in front of the international table, blocking it, and monopolized the employees’ time by loudly badgering them. These actions prevented, or tended to prevent, other employees from the table and intimidated, or tended to intimidate, employees from entering the room and approaching the table.” The grievance also noted that the union stationed agents on either side of the door to the room that Warner and her colleagues had reserved. “These agents intercepted those attempting to enter the meeting room and harassed them.”

Shelby Krocker, an employee at a Kroger supermarket in West Virginia, got her own taste of union harassment in the form of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents about 35,000 employees across several states and Washington, D.C. At the time of her hiring, the union instructed her to become a member and sign a dues checkoff form if she wanted employment. She signed the agreement but eventually, in 2018, decided to withhold further dues payments. That was her right under West Virginia’s Right to Work law, enacted in February 2016 and upheld by the State Supreme Court about a year and a half later. UFCW Local 400 continued to collect dues, claiming that she had missed the time period “window” for doing so, though without informing her as to cutoff date. Krocker then filed an unfair labor practices suit with the NLRB regional office. As with Kacy Warner, however, she was rebuffed.

But these dissenting employees were not out of options. Represented from the start by the Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, they appealed to the National Labor Relations Board’s Office of the General Counsel, headed since November 2017 by Peter Robb. And this July, Robb or one of his subordinates ruled that the union in each case had violated employee rights. Indeed, the office added new charges against certain individual union members or agents. National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix explained, “The NLRB General Counsel’s Office rulings in these cases open the door for finally holding Big Labor accountable for the illegal language slipped into union dues deduction cards and serves no purpose other than to restrict rank-and-file workers from exercising their legally protected rights.”