Michigan Kroger Employee Fights Mandatory Union Payments

An employee of Kroger’s supermarket in the Prospect Hill Shopping Center in Milford has filed federal charges against United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 876 union officials and Kroger management for having to make mandatory union payments.
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Kroger store
A Kroger employee in Michigan filed federal charges for having to pay union dues in an apparent violation of labor laws. // Photo courtesy of Kroger

An employee of Kroger’s supermarket in the Prospect Hill Shopping Center in Milford has filed federal charges against United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 876 union officials and Kroger management for having to make mandatory union payments.

The employee, Roger Cornett, states Kroger declared it would fire him unless he signed a union membership form, and authorized union dues deductions and contributions to the union’s Political Action Committee (PAC) from his paycheck. Cornett says the UFCW lacks a legal basis to demand money from any worker.

Cornett’s charges are now pending with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency responsible for governing private sector labor relations. Cornett’s charge states despite his requesting a copy, neither union officials nor Kroger produced a copy of a union contract containing a so-called “union security clause,” more accurately called a “forced-dues clause.”

Under federal law, even in a state without Right to Work protections, union officials can only enforce a contract requiring employees to pay dues as a condition of employment if the contract contains a forced-dues clause. To be valid, federal law requires that such clauses have a 30-day grace period before union bosses’ pay-up-or-be-fired demands can be enforced.

Since Kroger and UFCW cannot produce a contract that contains such a clause, union demands for dues money should be illegal, says Cornett. This is true regardless of Michigan’s repeal of its Right to Work law by the Democratic-led legislature, a provision that made union membership and union financial support strictly voluntary.

Under federal law, no employee is required to authorize payroll deductions of union dues or to pay money to a union PAC used to fund union boss-backed political candidates.

Additionally, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and U.S. Supreme Court cases like General Motors v. NLRB safeguard the right of workers to abstain from formal union membership, while the CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision forbids union officials from forcing nonmember workers to pay money for any expenses outside the union’s core bargaining functions, which includes political expenses.

Michigan’s Right to Work law, which prevented union officials from having workers fired for refusing to join or pay dues to a union, was repealed on Feb. 13. According to Cornett’s charges, in February he asked if there was an updated version of the union contract that would require him and other nonmembers to pay dues as a condition of employment considering the repeal.

Neither UFCW nor Kroger provided Cornett with such a contract in response to his request, Cornett says.

According to Cornett, union officials told him and other workers it was a condition of employment for them to become union members, authorize direct deductions of union dues from their pay, and “sign all or part of the three-part union membership application and checkoff form,” the latter of which included a page authorizing deductions for the union’s PAC.

Cornett’s charges state he received a letter from management on Feb. 28 “informing him that…Kroger terminated (him) for failure to become a member of the union.”

Cornett says the termination took place within the statutorily required 30-day grace period before forced-dues contracts can be enforced against union nonmembers — meaning the firing would be illegal even if the union had a valid contract that allowed it to require dues payments as a condition of employment.

In his charges, Cornett says he signed the three-part form to keep his job. The charges state the union’s threats and pressuring of employees “violate the (NLRA), and threaten, restrain, and discriminate against Charging Party and similarly situated employees in the exercise of their Section 7 right to refrain from (union activity).”

“Here we have yet another example of union bosses browbeating the very Michigan workers they claim to ‘represent’ as soon as Right to Work protections are gone,” says Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation.

“Security guards at government buildings across western Michigan are already banding together to oppose forced dues demands from UGSOA union officials, and we now see UFCW union officials trying to squeeze dues money out of Kroger employees using coercive tactics that are forbidden even in a non-‘Right to Work’ environment.”

Mix says the foundation staff attorneys will investigate and defend Cornett’s rights.