Local 11's Dues Collection From Out-of-Work Employees Sparks Congressional Action
By Charlyce Bozzello
According to Unite Here Local 11 co-president Kurt Petersen, 95 percent of the union’s members have been laid off amid the coronavirus crisis. But that doesn’t mean Local 11 has slowed down its commitment to collecting dues payments.
Now, there's Congressional concern over Local 11 -- and the country's top labor unions -- continuing to collect dues from out-of-work members.
The problem first appeared on social media. As coronavirus-related layoffs ramped up in March, a union member commented on one of Local 11’s Facebook posts asking, “Are we still being charged for dues???”
In reply, another member informed her that, yes, “They’d [Local 11] like us to. No really. I told my rep, sorry, no can do.”
Another out-of-work hotel employee said his union representative told him dues payments were still expected. He received a message from his union rep saying, "It is critical for you to keep paying your dues so that we can keep fighting."
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, this same union member -- who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation -- said, “It sounds to me like all they [Local 11] want is the money, and that’s it. They don’t care about their employees.”
He also noted that many members were unable to get in touch with their union representatives during this stressful time:
"Coworkers have sent me text messages saying that they couldn’t talk to anybody at the union, that the phone was always busy and nobody was answering.” Yet, these same members were still expected to pay union dues.
Thanks to these workers' stories, Local 11’s behavior has raised concerns at the federal level.
Last week, ranking members of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Tim Walberg (R-IL), wrote a letter to major labor union presidents -- including the president of Unite Here -- asking them to stop collecting dues from laid-off workers during the coronavirus crisis.
Citing the Free Beacon interview, the letter states: "We are concerned that the continuing collection of union dues from unemployed workers is imposing an additional and unnecessary hardship on these workers and their families -- making it even more difficult for struggling Americans to make ends meet.”
The letter asks specific questions of the union related to dues collecting, including:
How many currently unemployed workers are still being asked to pay union dues?
Has Unite Here made any recommendation to its union affiliates about whether to suspend or continue dues collections?
Do you think it’s appropriate for taxpayer dollars from the Unemployment Insurance program to be used to pay for union dues instead of everyday living expenses?
In times of hardship, union members should be able to look to their union representatives for support. Instead, Local 11 members are right to wonder what exactly they’re getting in return for their continued dues payments.
Judging from the union’s latest financial filings with the Department of Labor, Local 11 has the resources to put the wellbeing of its members above its bottom line.
At the end of 2019, the union had cash reserves of over $4 million; Local 11 also collected almost $18 million in member dues last year.
Given the ongoing struggles Local 11 members face, perhaps the union should be required to pay back the dues it pressured members to pay during the pandemic.
Charlyce Bozzello is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts.