Worker Sues Teamsters for 'Forced Unionism'

By Mark Mead | July 7, 2008 | 8:19pm EDT

( - A national legal aid foundation Tuesday filed a lawsuit against a St. Louis-based Teamsters Union on behalf of an employee who alleges the union has tried to illegally have him fired.

In their press release, The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF) claimed that Teamsters Local 610 had violated a 1988 Supreme Court decision that granted workers the right to resign their union membership and pay the costs associated only with collective bargaining.

Citing the 1988 Supreme Court case that NRWLDF won, Communications Workers v. Beck, foundation Vice President Stefan Gleason asserted that "under federal law, as an employee in a unionized workplace, you cannot be compelled to formally join the union, or compelled to pay for anything more than the union's proven collective bargaining costs, which is only a fraction of full dues."

"In other words," he added, "you cannot be compelled to pay for political activities, organizing activities, and public relations."

Pete Lenhardt, employee at Culligan Water Conditioning, refused to pay the full union initiation fee, saying he wasn't a full member, said Gleason.

"The Teamsters Local 610 has a forced unionism agreement in their contract with Culligan," he said. "They never notified the employees that they have the right to refrain from union membership and that they have the right to pay a reduced fee under the Beck decision."

"He wasn't notified of his rights not to be a member," said Lenhardt's attorney, John Scully.

"We filed a charge based on Beck, saying 'Hey, they have to tell him about his rights to not have to be a full member of the union and pay reduced fees,'" he added.

On June 1 the local Teamsters union demanded in a letter that Culligan fire Lenhardt for not paying the initiation fee. According to Scully, Lenhardt was not informed about his right to refrain from union membership until June 6.

"They were automatically deducting the full dues from his paycheck," Scully said. "He wasn't notified of his rights not to be a member."

According to Scully, Lenhardt has been "under pressure from the union" for at least six months.

Teamsters Local 610 did not return phone calls for comment.

Gleason says there is a trend among unions of "thumbing their noses" at the 1988 Supreme Court decision.

"This case is fairly typical of unions just thumbing their noses at that precedent and instead insisting that somebody sign up and pay full dues as condition of employment," he said.

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will investigate the case and decide if it will go to a court proceeding, said Scully.

"If it reaches that stage with the complaint going to trial," he said, "then we're talking six to nine months from now."

According to NRWLDF, Culligan said they would not fire Lenhardt while the investigation with the NLRB was pending.

"Foundation attorneys are also demanding that the union notify all bargaining unit employees of their rights," they said.

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