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Sheet metal workers claim union, company violated Wisconsin’s right-to-work law

By   /   March 3, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

MADISON, Wis. – Ten employees at a sheet metal fabrication plant in Allenton are taking their fight against forced unionization to court, in a case that could test the strength of Wisconsin’s right-to-work law.

The workers at Maysteel LLC filed a complaint this week in Washington County Court against the factory and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers No. 10 in Milwaukee and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Rock River Lodge 2053.

The employees allege the union and the company have continued to violate their rights under Wisconsin’s right-to-work law, signed by Gov. Scott Walker on March 9, 2015.

Walker’s signature is the signature event in a claim that asserts the union and Maysteel circumvented the law by “backdating” its collective bargaining agreement to March 5, 2015, before the right-to-work law took effect.

The employees, represented free of charge by the Virginia-based National Right to Work Foundation, note the collective bargaining agreement clearly states the contract was signed and entered into on March 18 — nine days after the right-to-work law and its prohibitions against forced unionization were implemented.

AP file photo

RIGHT-TO-WORK: Gov. Scott Walker puts pen to bill on March 9, 2015, making Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state in the union.

In mid-March 2015, before the contract was signed, several of the workers asked the company for a copy of the new monopoly bargaining agreement that would be imposed, according to the complaint. The workers were told that IAM officials and Maysteel were still working on the contract and that it would be signed on March 18, 2015.

Wisconsin statute gives employees the right to “refrain from self-organization; forming, joining or assisting labor organizations; bargaining collectively through representatives; or engaging in activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

And unions, with the assistance of businesses, can no longer deduct union dues from the paychecks of employees who opt out.

“No person may require, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an individual to … pay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor organization,” the law states.

RELATED: Unions’ ‘unconstitutional taking’ argument on right-to-work dripping with irony

But the Machinists union and Maysteel management claim Wisconsin’s right-to-work law does not apply.

Since April 3, 2015, IAM has demanded, “upon pain of discharge,” the employees pay union dues and fees as a condition of their continued employment at Maysteel.

“In furtherance of this illegal scheme, IAM continues to collect, or accept compulsory dues from Complainants, or has caused those dues to be deducted from Complainants’ wages, and has used those dues to IAM’s benefit,” states the complaint, also filed with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Maysteel also continued to comply with and enforce the new labor contract, deducting dues from the employees’ wages and handing them over to the union, according to the lawsuit.

A company representative did not return Wisconsin Watchdog’s request for comment.

“Act 1 (the right-to-work law) does not apply to the Maysteel bargaining unit until March 2018,” when the current contract expires, the union wrote in letters to four of the employees in the lawsuit. IAM was prepared to play hardball for its union dues.

“Therefore, the (forced unionism clause) is in full effect until March 2018. This requires you to pay your fair share of the Union’s costs as a condition of employment. If you fail to make timely payments, we would have no choice but to initiate the process for your termination from Maysteel,” the union stated, according to court documents.

In a letter dated July 2, 2015, the union reminded the employees that the “union security clause” was in full effect requiring that they pay their “fair share of the Union’s costs as a condition of your employment.”

“Sadly, this is just the latest Big Labor scheme to siphon off money from workers’ paychecks,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said in a statement. “Union bosses apparently think that workers won’t notice if they flat-out ignore Right to Work laws. Fortunately these workers decided to fight back, and the National Right to Work Foundation is proud to fight alongside them, because no worker should ever be fired for refusing to pay union fees.”

The lawsuit demands the union and the company desist from enforcing forced unionism and payment of dues as a condition of employment. It seeks the return of all dues “wrongfully taken or coerced” from the employees, and asks that the union and the company pay complainants costs and attorney fees.

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.