Labor leaders mulling legal options after order stops union-due collections
SAN JUAN – The heads of unions representing Puerto Rico power and wáter utility workers rejected a determination from Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez that orders all public corporations to stop deducting union dues from workers’ salaries following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Both labor leaders said Vázquez misread the Janus case. In June, the top court ruled that government employees who are represented by a union but do not belong to that union cannot be required to pay a fee to cover the union’s costs to negotiate a contract that applies to all employees. The 5-4 decision overturned an earlier ruling, dating back to 1977, that allowed the unions to charge such fees, which are often known as “fair share” or “agency” fees.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus case is not applicable to workers affiliated to unions nor establishes a right to disaffiliate from a union. This case refers to workers who do not belong to unions but who have money from their salaries discounted to pay union fees,” Pedro Irene Maymí, head of the Independent Authentic Union, which represents unionized workers at the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, said in written remarks.
Because of the Justice Department interpretation, the Labor Department is now asking public corporations to stop deducting money from unionized workers.
“It is wrong for a Labor secretary who is supposed to know the law to issue an opinion that is totally wrong,” he said.
Vázquez alleges that the Supreme Court ruling invalidated articles of Act 130, the Labor Relations Act. Maymí said he is discussing options with the union’s lawyers.
Fredyson Martínez, vice president of the Irrigation and Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym), which represents Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority workers, concurred with Maymí. In an interview with Caribbean Business, he said the ruling is applicable to entities where union membership is not mandatory and there are separate fees for workers who do not want to join. While Utier membership is mandatory, he said he was unaware of any member who wanted to leave the union.
“The workers here signed a document upon employment affiliating themselves with the union,” Martínez said, adding that Utier workers who are promoted to management are free to leave the union.