Hotel Union Faces Federal Charges
Hawaii hotel workers sue union over political use of dues money
HONOLULU, Hawaii - With free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, two Honolulu Hilton employees have filed federal unfair labor practice charges against the UNITE HERE Local 5 union.
Grant Suzuki and Daryl Sakugawa don’t belong to Local 5 but can still be forced to pay union dues and fees as a condition of employment, because Hawaii lacks a Right to Work law. However, the Foundation-won Supreme Court precedent, Communication Workers v. Beck, holds that nonunion employees cannot be forced to pay for union activities unrelated to workplace bargaining, such as political lobbying or members-only activities.
In December 2011, Suzuki and Sakugawa received a breakdown of union financial expenditures from Local 5. According to the union’s books, both employees were forced to contribute to a variety of activities outside the scope of workplace negotiations, including UNITE HERE political lobbying and a union strike fund.
Suzuki has repeatedly clashed with union officials, filing successful unfair labor practice charges in 2008 to force UNITE HERE operatives to return illegally-seized union dues. Suzuki has since been targeted by union officials for harassment, because he informed his coworkers of their rights to opt-out of union dues, resign their union membership, and continue working during union-instigated strikes.
The charges will now be investigated by the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency charged with administering private sector labor law.
“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 we hope the NLRB will promptly return Suzuki and Sakugawa’s dues to their rightful owners, the only permanent solution is a Hawaii Right to Work law, which would make union membership and dues payments strictly voluntary.”
A Hilton Hawaiian Village employee says that he was forced to help fund nonbargaining activities.
"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 US$1,000 (a year) in annual dues. After I won that case, I started paying about US$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.