Nine years ago, Kent Hospital emergency room nurse Jeanette Geary didn’t want to be a union member, but her co-workers voted to join the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP). Even as a non-member of the union, she and others who also opposed a union at the hospital were required to pay certain union fees. She wasn’t happy.
She wanted a breakdown of how the money was being spent, and when she didn’t get an independent audit she sought the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Her action took her down a path that has given her an education in labor law and to the twists and turns of national politics.
After almost a decade, the NLRB ruled last month that the union violated federal law by using the fees from non-member workers to pay for lobbying activities and not providing a complete accounting of those fees to non-members.
Jack Callaci, UNAP Director, Collective Bargaining and Organizing said last week that the union intends to appeal the ruling. He reasons that the lobbying related to wages for the benefit of union members and non-members and therefore was permissible.
Geary, who now works in an emergency department in a North Carolina hospital, was reached by telephone Friday. She said she is “thrilled” and, fortified by the decision, aims to solicit the experiences of other nurses and bring transparency to union operations through the Internet. She is doubtful UNAP will appeal the ruling as they would run the risk of further strengthening the NLRB ruling if they lose in court.
She said her objective isn’t to bring down unions, but rather to educate workers on how their union dues are spent. She asks whether members are aware that UNAP collects about $2.5 million in dues from nurses at Rhode Island Hospital alone or that the union president, Linda McDonald, who has been a registered nurse at the hospital, makes $90,200.
“I’m kind of like on a mission now,” Geary said. “I can let people know how much people are making just because they have a title.”
She said the NLBR ruling gives her credence and validates her on a national level.
“We [nurses] are professionals. We have a voice and this shows that one person can make a difference,” she said.
She will start simply with a Facebook page. She said she is self-financing her effort and would not seek contributions from the National Right to Work Foundation or other groups.
“I don’t want any money from anybody. I’m not going to be attached to any group because, if I do, I’ll lose authenticity,” she said.
Her win may amount to some money, but surely not much.
“We would probably have to pay her about $9,” said Callaci.
If so little, why mount an appeal that could cost so much?
“It’s the principle that’s important,” he answered.
According to online reports of the case, in 2009 UNAP spent $22,650 from its general operating fund to contribute to its lobbying efforts in the Rhode Island and Vermont state legislatures. Those funds went directed toward lobbying on seven bills relating to health care institutions, and they ranged in purpose from increasing funding for mental healthcare services at UNAP-represented facilities to increasing state monitoring of certain hospitals.
In 2012 during the Obama administration, the NLRB endorsed a potential balancing test whereby lobbying for certain bills considered “germane” to statutorily-related union activities (such as bills increasing the minimum wage) would be permitted with nonmember contributions.
The legal battle didn’t end there, and the outcome changed with President Donald Trump.
The decision was appealed and the Supreme Court vacated the ruling when it held that three recess Obama appointments to the NLRB in January 2012 were invalid. Then in January of this year, Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys filed a petition at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking a court order that the NLRB promptly decide Geary’s case. The Appeals Court then ordered the NLRB to respond to the mandamus petition by March 4, which ultimately caused the NLRB to issue its 3-1 decision on March 1, just ahead of the deadline.
In a press release, the Foundation hailed the decision as sweeping but still shy of what needs to happen.
“Jeanette Geary bravely fought against Big Labor’s workplace coercion for years to stand up against a blatant refusal to respect her rights and those of the workers union officials claim to represent,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Although this is an overdue victory for Jeanette Geary, ultimately these types of forced union abuses will never be eliminated until Big Labor’s power to force workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment are completely eliminated.”