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Labor board to take Local 555 to court

The National Labor Relations Board has decided to prosecute United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 in a dues dispute with an Ashland Albertson's employee.

Albertson's employee Gary Smith says union officials have threatened to have him fired for refusing to pay dues that go toward noncollective bargaining activities, such as politics. The union has argued that it has treated Smith the same as any other employee and that it tried to get him dismissed only because he refused to pay partial dues required under the law for nonmembers at a union shop.

The hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 16 in Portland before an administrative law judge.

A 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, CWA vs. Beck, held that workers can refuse to join a union, even at a union shop. But they must pay the percentage of dues that pay for collective bargaining representation and nonpolitical activities.

Smith's legal wrangling with the union began about two years ago. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, long critical of union practices, has taken up Smith's cause, providing him with free legal assistance.

Smith has filed four separate charges that have been consolidated into one case.

The first charge claims the union initially told Smith and other employees that they had to join the union and pay full dues to work at Albertson's.

The UFCW says 89.5 percent of its monthly dues, which run roughly $25, is used for chargeable items. The other 10.5 percent supports political activities.

Smith was eventually granted the partial-dues status, but the second charge says the union refused to provide him with financial statements showing which activities it considered to be part of employee representation and which it termed political.

And when he refused to pay the nonmember dues until the union provided that information, the union threatened to have him fired for not paying them. Smith has agreed to pay the nonmember dues until the dispute is settled, his attorney said. The third charge claims the union wanted him fired because of his previous complaints.

The latest charge stems from quarterly dues credits of $7.50 that union members get for attending meetings. As a nonmember, the union says, he is not entitled to the credit. But Smith's attorney has argued he was invited to attend the meetings and should get the same credit.