On Tuesday, the state of Oregon’s Employment Relations Board (ERB) issued a proposed order in Duffey v. Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 483 agreeing with the Freedom Foundation’s position that a Portland city union violated state labor law by arranging for hate mail to be sent to a worker’s home.
The mail, which included several threats of physical violence and even death, was part of a campaign organized by the leaders of Laborers’ Local 483 (LIUNA) for the purpose of discouraging the worker from holding a workplace deauthorization vote.
Deauthorization is a now-defunct option under Oregon law that would have allowed city employees to choose for themselves whether to pay LIUNA dues. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same end ultimately accomplished by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
At the time, however, many of the city of Portland employees had wanted it sooner, and the Freedom Foundation had been helping one employee in particular circulate the necessary petition to hold a vote.
When the hate mail began to surface last fall, we promptly filed an unfair labor practice against LIUNA on his behalf.
Setting aside the unethicality of LIUNA’s behavior, Oregon law prohibits labor unions from attempting to “(i)nterfere with, restrain or coerce any employee in or because of the exercise of any right” protected under the state’s Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA).
That’s precisely what the Freedom Foundation alleged LIUNA did.
The union’s leaders created postcards specifically designed to discourage the worker’s deauthorization efforts, which at the time was a protected right under the PECBA. The postcards contained LIUNA’s return address and the worker’s pre-printed home address on one side, while the other side boasted LIUNA’s logo, a pre-printed message and a space for individual union members to add comments. As previously mentioned, several of the postcards ultimately contained not-so-veiled threats to the man’s personal safety, along with obscenities and other hateful comments.
In his proposed order, the ERB’s Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Martin Kehoe agreed with the Freedom Foundation’s claim that LIUNA violated Oregon law, writing, “(U)nder the circumstances presented… LIUNA should be held accountable for their remarks.”
ALJ Kehoe went on to explain:
“LIUNA officials also clearly participated and engaged in the act to a meaningful degree. As outlined above, LIUNA’s leadership carefully designed the preprinted language on the postcards, got approval from their lawyer, distributed the cards to employees, provided (the targeted worker’s) name and address, gave general instructions, and actively solicited comments. By simply passing its pre-stamped LIUNA postcards out to members to send on their own, LIUNA knowingly abandoned any chance it had of censoring or repudiating their comments. We also cannot say that the comments received were of a nature that the union might not well expect from its members.”
“LIUNA’s reason for creating and distributing the cards is clear. As stated, LIUNA’s central aim was for [the targeted worker], personally, to “back off” and quit his deauthorization campaign. That is plainly an attempt to “(i)nterfere with, restrain or coerce” (the targeted worker) because of his exercise of a protected right… Likewise, after looking at LIUNA’s card campaign through an objective lens and considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that the natural and probable effect of that campaign would be to deter someone from continuing to wage his or her own campaign.”
“(T)he PECBA simply does not protect threats of physical violence.”
In the end, the ERB’s proposed “cease and desist” order doesn’t carry any significant consequences for LIUNA, which is too bad. But you can be sure the behavior doesn’t make LIUNA’s leaders look good to their rank-and-file members – the vast majority of whom didn’t participate in sending the postcards and probably wouldn’t ever approve of such a mean-spirited attack on one of their own.
Those members, thanks to Janus, now have the option to show their disapproval by withdrawing their support from LIUNA.
And if they do, at least one thing’s for sure.
Thanks to the Freedom Foundation, LIUNA won’t be sending hate mail to their homes anytime soon.