Thursday, March 31, 2005

Federal authorities say the Maryland State Teachers Association broke labor laws by “threatening and coercing” employees who sought company benefits denied by the union.

According to the National Labor Relations Board ruling last week, the teachers union must stop such unfair practices as reprimanding workers petitioning for employment benefits or job reassignments and must post notices stating it violated labor laws.

The union, a National Education Association affiliate, is Maryland’s largest union and represents about 60,000 public school employees.

The labor board is the third government agency to find the union mistreated its employees.

The Internal Revenue Service found in February 2004 that the union avoided payroll taxes by wrongfully denying employment benefits to union organizers.

In May, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation made a similar finding regarding unpaid state workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.

Union officials did not return phone calls requesting comment on the labor board’s ruling.

The ruling focused on the treatment of Jeffrey J. Dean and Edward C. Fortney, who worked as union organizers for Eastern Shore public school employees before leaving amid conflict with their bosses.

Mr. Dean and Mr. Fortney say the union retaliated against them with onerous job assignments and termination threats when they tried to obtain company benefits and membership in the union.

The labor board did not validate claims of retaliation. However, it found sufficient evidence to cite the union for obstructing the men’s bid for benefits and better work assignments.

Mr. Fortney also said he was fired in February 2004 because he pressured union officials to give him employment benefits. The officials dispute the claim, which was not addressed in the board’s decision.

The labor board did affirm the men’s complaints that their rights were violated when Dale Templeton, the union’s assistant executive director, ordered them to stop writing letters demanding new job assignments, benefits and union representation.

“Fortney and Dean had a protected right to concertedly seek a modification to their work assignments,” Administrative Law Judge Arthur J. Amchan wrote in the decision. The union “was not obliged to satisfy their requests, but it is prohibited from restraining, coercing or interfering with their entreaties.”

He ordered the union to stop “threatening or coercing employees” who seek employment benefits or union membership, and from “interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” by the National Labor Relations Act.

The union must post a sign in its Annapolis headquarters and in regional offices stating it violated labor law.

“They don’t practice what they preach,” Mr. Fortney said. “They expect to hold the school boards of this state to a certain standard, but they don’t meet that standard themselves.”

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