|By Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu
Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 28, 2012--A Hawaii-based worker has asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate Unite Here Local 5 for forcing him to pay for "nonrepresentational" union activities.
Grant Suzuki, who has free support from the nonprofit National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, has to pay certain union dues as a condition of his Hilton Hawaiian Village employment, said Will Collins, the foundation's deputy director of communications. However, even though Hawaii is not among 23 states that have passed right-to-work laws, as a nonunion employee living in the isles, Suzuki cannot be forced to pay for union activities that are unrelated to workplace bargaining, such as political lobbying or members-only activities, Collins said.
"There is a Supreme Court precedent that allows nonunion members to avoid paying for things that support the union's political agenda," he said. "You have an absolute right not to join a union. Even in non-right-to-work states, you can't be forced to join a union to get or keep a job."
Suzuki filed NLRB charges against Local 5 after discovering in December that his union dues had paid for a variety of activities outside of the scope of workplace negotiation, Collins said.
Suzuki, who has worked at Hilton Hawaiian Village for 21 years and now serves as a maintenance supervisor, said he became an objector member of Local 5 in the mid-2000s.
"I had no problem with the union for the first 15 years or so; the way they operated was fine to me. When Eric Gill took over, I completely disagreed with how he was negotiating," he said.
After changing his union status to a financial core and objector member, Suzuki said his union dues dropped below what other union members paid. However, he retained all the rights and privileges of full union membership.
Suzuki said his union dues were reduced to 8 percent of what the other Hilton Hawaiian Village union members paid in 2008 after he successfully filed NLRB unfair labor practice charges against Local 5.
"I was paying close to $1,000 (a year) in annual dues. After I won that case, I started paying about $100 (a year)," he said. "I didn't want to pay for the things that I'm not obligated to pay for like giving money to political candidates, picnics and trips."
Suzuki's most recent action came after Local 5 informed him a few months ago that the percentage of dues that he was responsible for as an objector member would increase up to 75 percent, he said.
Local 5 spokesman Cade Watanabe said the union has not been notified of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation's latest NLRB charge.
"I haven't seen (it) so I can't comment on the specifics," Watanabe said.
Over the years, the foundation has filed about 12 charges against Local 5 in Hawaii, he said.
"They are basically a front for the biggest anti-union banks and corporations," Watanabe said. "It's our position that workers who want a free ride at the expense of their co-workers are not entitled to it, and we've proven that time and time again."
Hilton Hawaiian Village did not have an immediate comment on the dispute.
While Collins could not say how common the right-to-work debate has been in Hawaii, the issue has been trending across the nation. Earlier this year Indiana became the Rust Belt's first right-to-work state and the first state in more than a decade to adopt the law.
While proponents say right-to-work states attract more jobs, others have argued that the law creates workplace abuses. Essentially, the law blocks union contracts in right-to-work states from requiring nonmembers to pay fees for representation.
"As a legal foundation we deal with a lot of these cases. It's usually a pretty common complaint that workers will try to opt out of paying for union political activities and the union won't let them," Collins said.
The foundation, which has worked since 1968 to assist employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by abuses of compulsory unionism, is pushing for a right-to-work law in Hawaii and is assisting thousands of employees in nearly 200 similar cases nationwide.
"They've been caught red-handed before, but Local 5 bosses continue to have no qualms about extracting forced dues from nonunion hotel workers to fund their political agenda," said Patrick Semmens, legal information director for the National Right to Work Foundation.
While the foundation hopes the NLRB promptly will return Suzuki's dues, Semmens said "the only permanent solution is a Hawaii right-to-work law, which would make union membership and dues payments strictly voluntary."
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