Illegal Strike Threaten Employees’ Rights

Grocery Workers Win Cases Against UFCW Union Bosses for Illegal Strike Threats

Union officials forced to refund seized dues, cease misleading workers about their rights

BOSTON, MA – This September, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys won precedent-setting settlements for Massachusetts Stop & Shop employees Saood Rafique and Matthew Coffey. The two men charged United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union agents with multiple violations of their rights during the April 2019 union boss-ordered strike on the grocery chain. Rather than face continued prosecution, union officials settled their cases by remedying all of the violations of the workers’ rights stated in their respective unfair labor practice charges against the union.

Both Coffey and Rafique were misled by union agents from the start of their employments into thinking that joining the UFCW was a condition of employment at Stop & Shop. Such an arrangement, sometimes called a “closed shop,” was outlawed by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. UFCW bosses also charged each of them full union dues illegally for years.

UFCW Agents Ramp Up Violations During Strike

Once the strike was ordered by UFCW bosses in April, Coffey and Rafique both found out — independently of what any union official had told them — that union membership could not be mandated as a condition of employment and that they had the right to rebuff the strike order and return to work.

Because they exercised their right to return to work, union agents targeted Coffey and Rafique with vicious campaigns of intimidation during the strike. Their initial unfair labor practice charges, filed with free assistance from the Foundation, reported that UFCW agents hit them with threats of termination, harassment and other forms of illegal retaliation after they decided to go back to work.

“The union threatened that, as soon as the company came back, I was gonna be fired immediately, because in order to work at Stop & Shop they claimed that you had to be part of the union,” Coffey told CBS Western Mass News during the strike. “Which was a blatant lie.”

Coffey and Rafique also experienced illegal retaliation after the strike, with Coffey receiving a letter from union officials demanding he appear before a UFCW kangaroo court to be punished for exercising his right to keep working, and Rafique reporting that UFCW agents had told his coworkers to spy on him.

Settlements Order Remedies for All UFCW Rights Abuses

The class-wide settlements for Coffey and Rafique, approved by National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 1 in Boston, order UFCW bosses to post remedial rights notices in over 70 Stop & Shop stores, as well as on the internet and in the union’s monthly newsletter, to inform all employees of their rights to both abstain from union membership and pay only the part of union fees directly germane to bargaining. These settlements enforce the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision.

The remedial notices also announce that UFCW officials will return to Coffey and Rafique dues seized from them in violation of their Beck rights. Also included in the notices are declarations that UFCW officials will “process resignations and objections of [all] bargaining unit employees who have resigned” union membership and “will not threaten [employees] with internal union discipline or fines” for returning to work during a strike. The settlements totally remedy the unfair labor practices suffered by the two grocery workers.

“These victories should serve as a reminder to all American employees — and union officials — that the individual rights of workers don’t cease to exist when union bosses call a strike,” commented Ray LaJeunesse, Vice President and Legal Director of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Workers who are subjected to strike intimidation or union bosses’  illegal misinformation can turn to the National Right to Work Foundation for free legal aid to hold union bosses accountable for their illegal actions.”

New York Employee Also Wins Case After Illegal Dues Demands

The two New England grocery workers were not the only Stop & Shop employees to win settlements against the UFCW recently. John Smith, a former employee of the Stop & Shop branch in New Hyde Park, New York, also won a victory with Foundation aid this September.

Smith had charged UFCW agents with similarly misinforming him that the grocery store was a “closed shop” when he was hired in November 2018. When he asked about how to resign his union membership, he was misled by several union officials about his right to resign and cut off a portion of union dues.

Smith’s charge also noted that union officials never apprised him of his right as a non-member to pay only the amount of union fees directly related to bargaining, as the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision requires.

His settlement, approved by NLRB Region 29 in Brooklyn, orders union officials to post notices that union officials will inform employees of their rights to refrain from formal union membership and pay only union fees directly related to bargaining. Smith will also be refunded dues that were taken in violation of his Beck rights.

“As Smith’s case shows, union bosses won’t hesitate to mislead workers regarding their legal right to resign their union membership and full union dues,” added LaJeunesse. “Unfortunately this type of misinformation will continue to be spread as long as workers lack Right to Work protections that make union membership and financial support completely voluntary.”