Portland-area ABC cameraman Jeremy Brown has just prevailed decisively in his National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case against the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET-CWA) union. He first charged the union in July 2019 with demanding and seizing illegal dues from him, and for ignoring his multiple attempts to exercise his right to refrain from union membership and not pay for union political activities. Following his original charge, he submitted another charge asserting NABET lawyers had sent him threatening and over-the-top demand letters.
Brown received free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF). A unanimous NLRB decision has now vindicated every charge he made against the union, and refers NABET’s lawyers for disciplinary sanctions on account of unprofessional conduct.
An NLRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled in December 2020 that NABET union officials had illegally snubbed Brown’s attempts to stop paying for union politics among other activities and had seized dues from him in excess of the amount they could compel nonmembers to pay by law. Brown had invoked his rights under the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision, which mandates that in states like Oregon lacking Right to Work protections nonmember workers can’t be forced to pay dues for anything beyond certain union core activities. Brown’s charges detailed that union officials had failed to inform him that requests to reduce dues as per Beck had to be directed to the union’s national headquarters.
However, the ALJ let NABET off the hook for the union lawyers’ intimidating evidence preservation letters sent during the litigation, despite the fact that they illegally threatened to seek “damages” from Brown if he didn’t comply with their demands, and absurdly ordered that he hold onto things like pedometer and GPS data.
Brown’s Foundation provided attorneys urged the NLRB to prosecute the NABET lawyers for the outrageous demands. Peter Robb, the NLRB General Counsel at the time, also filed a brief supporting Brown’s attempt to put the issue before the full Board. This effort met resistance when Peter Ohr, whom President Biden in January 2021 installed as NLRB Acting General Counsel after a hasty and premature ouster of Robb, sought to withdraw the brief that Robb had filed. Foundation attorneys opposed Ohr’s motion, arguing that he had no legal authority to rescind Robb’s brief.
Despite Ohr’s opposition, the NLRB took up Brown’s case challenging the NABET lawyers’ evidence preservation letters. In a decision this week, three current Board members, including the Biden-appointed Chairman, agreed that “the threatened aggressive pursuit of sanctions and penalties” in the letters “viewed in conjunction with the breadth of the information covered by the letters, sends the message that the Respondent is willing to go to extreme—and perhaps harassing—lengths to penalize the Charging Party, placing the letters outside the bounds of legitimate efforts to ensure evidence preservation.”
In addition to demanding that NABET officials stop failing to respond to workers’ Beck requests and that they return the dues seized from Brown in excess of the limit established by Beck, the NLRB also orders the union and its agents to cease sending “charging-party employees evidence preservation letters that reasonably tend to restrain or coerce them in the exercise of their right to avail themselves of the Board’s processes.”
Moreover, the Board in its decision found that the record in the case suggests that NABET’s lawyers “have not conformed their conduct to the standards of ethical and professional conduct required of practitioners appearing before the Agency,” i.e., by “repeatedly misidentifying NRTWLDF in [their] filings with the Board.” The Board decision therefore referred the union counsels’ conduct “to the attention of the Investigating Officer for investigation and such disciplinary action as may be appropriate.”
“NABET officials and lawyers subjected Jeremy Brown to layers upon layers of union malfeasance and intimidation just because he exercised his right to remain a nonmember and didn’t want to pay for union bosses’ political expenditures,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “He courageously stood up for his rights for well over two years, and we at the National Right to Work Foundation were proud to support him in a case where his rights have now been fully vindicated.”
Mix continued: “The fact that NABET officials and lawyers’ behavior elicited condemnation from even Biden-selected Chairman Lauren McFerran demonstrates how radical former NLRB Acting General Counsel Peter Ohr’s throwing of obstacles in Brown’s case was.”