A Kalispell timber trucker has filed federal charges against the Butte-based Teamsters, saying the union threatened his job illegally and demanded dues without adequately providing information about the union’s expenses, as required by law.
Michael Weller, an employee of Hanson Trucking and Resin Haulers Inc. in Columbia Falls, is not a member of the Teamsters Local 2 union, but said he was being over-charged for the dues he must pay as a nonmember, and provided several letters from the union saying it would request that he be fired if he did not pay the requested amounts.
“The union thinks they can get away with anything,” Weller said. “They’re ripping me off somewhere.”
Weller filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency that governs relations between unions and employers in the private sector.
As a non-union member in an industry where many of his colleagues join the union, Weller receives the benefits of increased pay when wage agreements are worked out through collective bargaining by the union. As such, he is required to pay reduced union dues to cover only his portion of collective bargaining, but he is not required to pay for expenses like union political activities.
These rights – called Beck rights after the U.S. Supreme Court case which affirmed them – also entitle non-union workers like Weller to a third-party audit of union expenditures to prove that he is not being charged for services from which he does not benefit.
After learning of his right to pay reduced dues, Weller wrote to the union electing to do so. Mark Brandt, Secretary and Treasurer for the Teamsters Local 2 union replied in two letters that reduced Weller’s monthly dues by 69 cents, from $39 to $38.31. In a Sept. 13 letter, Brandt also informed Weller he would have to pay a $150 objector fee and that if he didn’t, the union would request his termination. Reached last week in Great Falls, Brandt said the union has just been served with the charges and it was too early to comment.
Weller paid the charges out of fear of losing his job, and is now seeking financial disclosure documents from the union that break down whether he is paying the correct amount.
“He could be paying more, and we have no idea because the right financial disclosure documents have not been provided,” said John Powell, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF), which is handling the case. “In the event we find he is paying more than is required by law, then he could be seeking back charges as well.”
The case now goes before the NLRB’s regional board, which will investigate the charges and decide whether to issue a formal complaint against the union.
Weller, a 10-year trucker, emphasized that he enjoys his work at Hanson, where he has been employed for about a year and a half, and has a positive relationship with his employer. The dispute, he added, is between him and the union.
“I just want them to prove that they’re spending the money, and that it’s legal,” Weller said. “I don’t expect to gain anything out of it, I just want them to abide by the rules that they set.”
A similar case was settled last month in favor of the workers, when two employees of Safeway in Polson filed charges against the Butte-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 4 union. The two employees said the union inadequately informed them of their rights to be nonmembers or to pay reduced membership fees. The case, also handled by the NRWLDF, ended with the union agreeing to reimburse the workers a portion of their dues and honor their resignations from membership. While agreeing to the settlement, the union did not admit any wrongdoing.
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