MacIver News Service | Feb. 21, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – Josh Herr started in the pottery department of Kohler Co. seven months ago.
He said the harassment and intimidation from the union representing the factory employees began immediately.
Herr, 24, didn’t want to join United Auto Workers Local 833. He didn’t see the value.
“Rather than work harder to provide a service workers will voluntarily pay for, the all too common union boss response is to attack and harass the very workers they claim to represent.”
The UAW union steward and its president didn’t care for Herr’s answer.
“The head representative there named Scott Wagner kept coming up to me asking if I wanted to join the union. I told him I didn’t want to join,” Herr told MacIver News Service Wednesday in an exclusive interview. “He told me, ‘Then I can’t protect you from harassment.’”
In other words, the union steward couldn’t protect the new employee from the union, Herr said.
Wagner announced to workers in the toilet-and-sink component plant that Herr refused to join the union.
Things got worse.
Herr said the union steward continued to hound him. Right before Christmas, the UAW local union president, Tim Tayloe, walked around the pottery building reminding workers that there were a handful of employees who hadn’t joined, weren’t paying dues.
“Later he told me that I was the last one, that he had gotten everybody else to join, and he wanted me to join,” Herr said. “I told him again I wasn’t interested and turned and went back to work.”
Two weeks ago, Herr claims Tayloe called him at work and threatened him while he was doing his job.
“He said, ‘We really don’t like when people don’t join the union,’” Herr said. “He told me there were two other people in the pottery building who didn’t join the union and that nothing good happened to them.”
“He said, ‘I don’t want anything bad happening because you’re not joining,’” Herr added.
It was the latest in what the employee described as several subtle threats from union management.
“He is passively aggressively threatening me with the very union he wants me to join,” Herr said.
Herr doesn’t have to join a union. And under Wisconsin’s Right to Work law, Herr cannot be compelled to join a union or pay union dues. Under federal employment laws, organized labor cannot threaten, intimidate or otherwise create hostile workplaces, including for employees who do not want to join a union.
But Herr said UAW Local 833 isn’t playing by the rules.
He said his union steward advised a fellow employee not to help Herr should he slip and fall down the stairs. Step over him, the steward said. He’s not your brother.
“They have no respect for people who are not in the union,” Herr said.
Tayloe accused Herr of lying and “blowing this out of proportion.”
“Whatever he’s up to I hope he’s having fun. None of that happened.”
But Herr has some proof.
On Friday, Herr found a sign on the back of the punch clock praising 19 Kohler workers who had started paying union dues. Each name was accompanied by a gold star.
“A few scabs decided to go non-exempt,” the union sign proclaimed.
At the bottom it declared in red: “Pottery member that refuses to join the Union.” Joshua Herr, machine cast operator, the union sign boldly stated, is “Not a Union Brother.”
In asterisks below, the sign advised that “Some scabs have decided to start paying dues again, they have a gold star after their names.”
Tayloe said the sign didn’t come out of the UAW hall, and wasn’t sanctioned by the union.
Herr took a picture of it and put it on his Facebook page. The next day the sign was removed.
He said Kohler management has been supportive and is working to address the workplace issues.
Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said Herr’s experiences with the union are not unique.
“Unfortunately, there is a long history of Big Labor engaging in all sorts of harassment and pressure tactics against independent-minded workers who choose to stop union payments, as is their right under state Right to Work laws,” he said in an email. “Rather than work harder to provide a service workers will voluntarily pay for, the all too common union boss response is to attack and harass the very workers they claim to represent.”
For Herr, unions are unnecessary, a waste of money. But he doesn’t need to explain to the UAW or anyone else why he doesn’t want to join. In Wisconsin, he has the freedom to choose.
He said his experience with UAW union chiefs has only confirmed what he heard before he took the job at Kohler.
“They have exceeded my poor expectations of how badly they treated people, how petty they are,” Herr said.
“It’s just ridiculous,” he added. “For me, I can handle it. I feel bad that a lot of people at Kohler don’t want to be part of the union and they don’t want to pay dues but they don’t want to deal with the harassment.
“I want to make people aware that this is going on, to take power away from the union so they will lay off these people.”