Alcoa Workers in Ohio Accuse Union of Suppressing Dissent

The leaders of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers don’t like it when workers leave their union.  And they seem intent on exacting a high price upon those who go their own way.  But in two member employees at Alcoa’s Cleveland plant, Mark Bedenik and Matthew Slatten, the IAM may have met its match.  On March 26, the pair filed an unfair labor practice charge, the third in less than a month, against the union.  Aided by attorneys from the Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Bedenik and Slatten alleged that the union retaliated in various illegal ways in response to inquiries about their retaining employment without formal membership. 


Ohio is a non-Right to Work state.  That is, unions may force a “security agreement” upon an employer there, effectively requiring termination of any non-joining employee who fails to pay “agency fees” (typically set anywhere from 50 percent to 90 percent of full dues) to the union.  But even in such states, non-member workers have rights.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled several times in the past 30 years, most forcefully in Communications Workers v. Beck (1988), that dissenting employees may withhold dues payments unrelated to purposes of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance procedure.  Moreover, a union must inform all workers of this right, and without retribution against those who ask.  The Machinists’ union, however, didn’t see things this way.      

Bedenik and Slatten originally approached union representatives in February, asking which rights they would retain if they were to continue working at Alcoa’s Cleveland plant, which manufactures trucking wheels.  The IAM promptly suspended six Alcoa employees from eligibility for overtime work for up to one year.  The dissenting employees responded by filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.  In a second charge filed in early March, Bedenik and Slatten accused union officials of ordering them to attend what amounted to a union-rigged internal hearing.  The pair chose not to attend.  In the latest round, the two are charging that IAM officials kicked them out of the union, yet have continued to deduct dues from their paychecks.  “Union officials want workers to shut up and pay up,” said Stefan Gleason vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.  It appears Bedenik and Slatten wish to do neither.  (PR Newswire US, 3/26/07).