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Union members can be required to put in writing their questions about when they can stop having union dues deducted from their pay, a federal court in Washington ruled May 16 ( Ruisi v. NLRB , 2017 BL 162684, D.C. Cir., No. 16-1031, 5/16/17 ).
The decision shows that the National Labor Relations Board and the courts may allow unions some discretion in fielding employee questions about their union dues and obligations.
Two employees of Host International argued Culinary Workers Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 in Las Vegas could easily and quickly provide the dates over the phone and should have done so.
However, the NLRB and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the unions lawfully required members to request such information in writing.
Employees Natalie Ruisi and Michael Peluso signed dues checkoff authorizations that were to remain in effect unless the employee sent written notice to the employer and union during a 15-day interval after an anniversary of the member’s signing.
Both employees inquired about their anniversary dates, but a union official told them they could only obtain the dates by making written requests.
The employees filed unfair labor practice charges, but an administrative law judge and the NLRB found refusing to provide the information by phone did not violate the unions’ duty to fairly represent employees.
Writing for the appeals court, Judge Harry T. Edwards said the union policy was justified by concerns about the privacy of members and administrative efficiency. “It can hardly be doubted that the Union has a legitimate interest in verifying the identity of the requestor of such information,” he said.
The employees had a narrow window of time within which to revoke their dues checkoff authorizations, but the court said that didn’t make the policy unlawful. Even “if the Union was required to disclose information over the telephone,” Edwards wrote, “some employees would still miss the fifteen-day cut-off date if they called too late.”
Stating the evidence did not show the unions acted arbitrarily or in bad faith, Edwards said the “policy may be annoying to some, but it certainly cannot be seen to violate the duty of fair representation.”
Ruisi and Peluso were represented by attorneys from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc. Patrick Semmens, the group’s vice president, disagreed with the ruling.
“Union officials’ policy in this case was clearly designed to be an additional hurdle for employees’ attempting to exercise their right to cut off all dues payments,” Semmens told Bloomberg BNA in a May 16 email. “Unfortunately for the rights of individual workers,” he said, “the NLRB looked the other way and the court has now deferred to the Board’s misguided conclusion.”
Judges Brett M. Kavanaugh and Robert Leon Wilkins joined in the court’s opinion.
National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney Aaron B. Solem in Springfield, Va., argued for the employees. NLRB attorney Kyle A. deCant in Washington argued for the board.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/NATALIE_RUISI_AND_MICHAEL_PELUSO_PETITIONERS_v_NATIONAL_LABOR_REL.
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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