Coca Cola worker wins suit against union

Michael P. Tremoglie Nov. 7, 2011, 1:54pm


HOUSTON, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - A Coca-Cola worker has won a settlement worth more than $4,000 after he was fired from his job for not paying his full union membership and dues payments.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) approved the settlement Oct. 22, with two separate settlements reached with the union and the company.

Keith Smiesko of Saxonburg, Pa. won $3,356.46 from Teamster Local 585 union officials and $819.54 from Coca-Cola.

Earlier this year, Teamster Local 585 officials demanded that Smiesko immediately pay full union dues for the previous three years along with additional union initiation fees without ever notifying him that he was being charged for their so-called "representation." Union officials threatened Smiesko with job termination if he did not pay.

Union officials demanded that Coca-Cola fire him because he refused to pay. Coca-Cola abided by the union's demand. Smiesko then filed federal unfair labor practice charges against the union and company with the NLRB regional office in Pittsburgh.

Smiesko received assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Foundation (NRWLF) - a nonprofit organization concerned about workers' rights. NRWLF maintained that the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Communication Workers v. Beck that workers can refrain from full-dues-paying union membership.

He was reinstated to his job with Coca-Cola in addition to the monetary settlement. Union and company officials also agreed to post a notice in the workplace for workers who may want to exercise their rights to refrain from full-dues-paying union membership.

"No worker should ever be extorted by union bosses to join or pay dues to a union in order to get or keep a job," said Mark Mix, President of National Right to Work. "Pennsylvania desperately needs Right to Work protections for its workers to strip from union bosses the power to compel workers to give up some of their hard-earned money in order to provide for their families."

Despite the court precedent in Beck, unions can still force workers who refrain from formal union membership to pay part of the union dues because Pennsylvania does not have a Right to Work law. But workers cannot be compelled to pay that portion of the union dues used for the union's political, lobbying, and member-only activities.

If enacted, a Right to Work law would end compulsory union dues by making union membership and dues payment strictly voluntary. Twenty-two states have already passed Right to Work protections for their workers.

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