MacIver News Service | April 18, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. — It appears Wisconsin’s four-year-old right-to-work law is still being violated by union shop businesses, a MacIver News Service review finds.
An exiled union member turned whistleblower insists the state wrongly abdicated its enforcement authority to the federal government.
MacIver News found several job postings with union security language in them.
“This position is governed by a collective bargaining unit. According to the terms of the CBA, applicants who are selected will be required to join the appropriate union within a certain period after hire. Details of union participation will be given to employees upon hire,” state online ads from Ceco Concrete Construction seeking concrete laborers in Milwaukee.
Such requirements are clearly prohibited under Wisconsin law, which states no employer may require, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an employee “(b)ecome or remain a member of a labor organization.” An employee also cannot be compelled to, “Pay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor organization.”
Ceco Concrete could be acting within the law if its existing collective bargaining agreement was put in place before the implementation of Wisconsin’s 2015 right-to-work law.
It’s not clear whether Ceco’s current labor contract predates the law. An official at the Milwaukee office said he would bring all questions related to the ad to the attention of the company’s Human Resources department and return MacIver News Service’s requests for information. As of publication, Ceco officials had not returned that request, and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The official did tell MacIver News that the Milwaukee CECO office would not hire nonunion workers.
“They would have a hard time traveling around with union employees,” he said.
In another ad, utility construction firm Henkels & McCoy, Inc.’s McFarland office seeks a lineman for a Madison telecom project. The posting declares, “This is a union position. All applicants must agree to join the union by membership and work under the union pay scales agreements.”
An official at the company’s Pennsylvania office said she would track down information on the ad and answer MacIver News Service’s questions about it. She had not done so as of late Wednesday.
Last summer, Total Residential, a division of Pewaukee-based Total Mechanical, posted multiple online ads seeking a residential HVAC service technician/installer. The ad included similar exclusionary language.
“TOTAL Residential is a union shop; if not already a member of Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 18, individual will be required to join,” the job description stated.
About the same time, Milwaukee-based General Heating & Air Conditioning posted job ads though online recruitment sites noting that the company “is a union shop; if not already a member of the Sheet Metal Workers Union, the individual will be required to join.”
In July, Robert Slamka, a long-time sheet metal worker journeyman, filed complaints against General Heating and Total Residential, as well as the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 18. In his complaints to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, Slamka alleges the companies improperly included union security agreement language in the ads and that, as a non-union worker, he was illegally excluded from consideration.
Slamka, who has engaged in a ferocious campaign to expose what he claims is widespread corruption within the union, was expelled from Local 18 in 2015. He asserts he was illegally exiled from the Big Labor fold after blowing the whistle on the union’s practices.
He applied for the position with General, but was not hired despite over 30 years of experience and what his complaint notes was a good working relationship previously with the company. The position, according to legal documents, was never filled.
Despite Slamka’s complaints to the company and to the Employment Relations Commission, the General ad remained posted for 44 days, according to complaint documents. At one point, the company changed the requirements for the position, demanding a special certification, which Slamka did not have.
General Heating acknowledged the union security language was posted in the ad, according to case documents.
Slamka also took his complaints to the National Labor Relations Board, which found, based on its investigation, that there “may be merit to the allegation that the employer interfered and restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of rights protected by Section 7 of the Act by advertising for job openings and stating that the union membership was a requirement for employment.”
Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act that is, which declares that employees have the right to unionize … and to “refrain from such activity.”
“It is unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights,” the NLRB notes.
Yet, the NLRB agent overseeing the case “conditionally” decided to dismiss the complaint because the “conduct is isolated in nature; there is no unlawful effect on any employee’s terms and conditions of employment.”
In other words, as Slamka’s attorney notes, there was a violation but it was not bad enough to warrant penalty.
The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, too, dismissed the complaint, citing a lack of jurisdiction. Peter Davis, commission attorney, cited a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case in asserting the state only had power to regulate the “content” of a contract between a union and a private sector employer regarding union membership.
“The court says if you can go to the feds, that’s the place to go because you are talking about a private sector employer,” Davis said. “If it was a public sector employer, that would be another case.” The commission found Davis’ reasoning “sound.”
But Wisconsin’s right-to-work law is a state law. Why wouldn’t the state have enforcement authority over all aspects of the law?
That’s what Slamka wants to know. What good is a right-to-work law if it has no teeth, the former union member asked.
He said he took the matter to then-Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office last year and was assured by the Division of Criminal Investigations that the office would look into it. He said he was rewarded with silence. Slamka said he’s asking for help from Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers.
Evers, financially backed by Big Labor, has vowed to wipe out Wisconsin’s right-to-work law.
Slamka said the unions know they are safe to violate a law that comes with no consequences.
“They believe they are bulletproof because they have a governor who’s on the hook of organized labor,” he said.