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Labor Union Fines Upheld Even Without Work

Employees should thoroughly review the obligations they are agreeing to when considering whether to join a Labor Union.  A recent case from the Ninth District Court of Appeals from Medina, Ohio demonstrates that Union membership could cost you, literally.  The Court in Bricklayers' Local Union No. 5 v. Ramey, 9th Dist. No. 10CA0121, 2011-Ohio-6331, upheld a Union's power to fine its members for violations of union rules. 

Ramey was an out-of-work bricklayer who continuously paid his dues and remained a union member for nearly five years.  Without work, he accepted work at a church in Brunswick, Ohio for a non-union mason contractor.  Even though he did not have union work available, working for a non-union contractor was a violation of the union constitution.  Ramey was informed that he would face charges by the union if he did not leave the job site, but he declined to do so. 

The Union's trial board held a trial where Ramey admitted to working for a non-union contractor, but argued that he needed the work. The trial board found that Ramey had not exhaused all efforts to secure union work, and imposed a fine of $2,750. The Union agreed to reduce the fine, but Ramey, needing the work, continued working for the non-union contractor. The trial board then sent Ramey a letter confirming its finding that Ramey violated their constitution and demaned payment for the $2,750 fine. Ramey did not file an internal appeal or pay the assessed fine.

The Union then filed a complaint against its own member, Ramey, to enforce the fine rendered against him in the Wadsworth Municipal Court. In Municipal Court, Ramey argued that he could not turn down the non-union job because he would become ineligible for unemplyment benefits. The trial court found that the membership agreement incorporating the Union constitution was "not a legal obligation" and ruled in Ramey's favor.

The Union appealed. The 9th District Court of Appeals reversed the trial Court's decision and recongized a Union's right to enforce its own constitution and bylaws, including fines against its members. The Court also upheld the Unions and other unincorporated associations right to sue their voluntary members to collect debts and enforce discipline. Prior to joining a Labor Union or attempting to organize their workplace, Employees should understand all obligations they binding themselves to by becoming a member.

By: Justin A. Morocco

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