Union Agrees to Settle with Polson Safeway Employees

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – United Food and Commercial Workers Local 4 has reached a settlement with two Safeway employees in Polson who filed complaints over their efforts to leave the union.

Complaints filed this spring by Gerald Rasmussen and Carla Crandall, who work in the store’s meat department, said the Butte-based union inadequately informed them of their rights to be nonmembers or to pay reduced membership fees.

Among other things, the settlement announced Wednesday requires the union to reimburse a portion of the workers’ dues and honor their resignations from membership. It also requires the union to notify workers of their Beck rights, which state employees forced to pay union dues only have to pay for membership activities and don’t have to pay for the union’s political activities if they don’t want to.

“We don’t know yet what the settlement (amount) is gonna be, but I’m not looking for it to be huge,” Rasmussen said in a telephone interview. “That wasn’t the reason we went through this.”

In April, Crandall and Rasmussen sent letters to the union resigning from membership and invoking their Beck rights. The two then filed the complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the union had unlawfully rejected their letters because they weren’t notarized, weren’t sent by certified mail and didn’t cite case law.

“I got a hold of the (National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation) attorneys, and they said, ‘That’s absolutely not right. They have to acknowledge those Beck rights and let you be a nonmember,'” Rasmussen said.

The settlement also says union officials must stop “requiring employees’ resignation letters be notarized, mailed by certified mail, set forth case law citations and be individually submitted.”

In agreeing to the settlement, the union did not admit wrongdoing.

The union was prepared to defend itself against the workers’ claims but opted to take the “high road” and settle, rather than spending thousands of dollars of membership money on attorneys fees, UFCW Local 4 president Nicolai Cocergine said in a written statement.

The union contract at the Polson store mandates the payment of monthly dues and membership as a condition of employment, and that’s something that was “voted on and agreed upon by the union membership … a long time ago,” he said.

Cocergine added the union did not reject the workers’ requests but merely asked “that they submit their request with a notarized signature.”

Rasmussen said the reason he and Crandall initially filed the complaints was to get the union to stop holding up a secret-ballot “deauthorization election” at their store — essentially a vote on whether employees wanted to be able to leave the union and stop paying dues without getting fired.

“If they had let the vote be counted, we would’ve never gone down that road,” Rasmussen said. “We did it just to stir the pot, which it did.”

The vote was eventually held and passed 20-12, said Rasmussen, who is no longer a union member.

Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said the settlement was a “victory for this group of courageous workers.”

“But this ugly union intimidation and abuse will continue to plague workers in Montana because there is no Right to Work law to ensure that payment of union dues is strictly voluntary,” he said in a statement.