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Right to work laws violated, Burlington Packaging Corporation of America employee alleges in lawsuit

BURLINGTON, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- A Packaging Corporation of America employee is suing the company and United Steelworkers Local 231, claiming union fees were collected from his paycheck against his will.

The federal lawsuit filed on May 30 by Martin Carter, an assistant operator at the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), 1600 S. Pine St., in Burlington, claims that the company and union violated Wisconsin's Right to Work law and federal labor laws through their union fee collection policies.

According to federal court documents, when Carter was hired on Oct. 22, 2013, he believed that he was required to sign off to allow paycheck deductions for United Steelworkers Local 231 dues as a condition of employment.

PCA and the United Steelworkers Local 231 reportedly have a collective-bargaining agreement that went into effect on May 1, 2017, and expires on April 23, 2023.

Waiver language provided in the court documents states that the form voluntarily authorized the "monthly dues, assessments," and if owed by Martin, "an initiation fee each as designated by the international secretary/treasurer of the union," to be deducted from his paycheck.

The fees could not be canceled for one year or until the bargaining agreement expired. After the year, deductions could be cancelled by Martin giving a written notice to an "appropriate management representative of the facility" within 15 days after the expiration of the agreement, court documents state.

Deductions would then stop the following month, something Martin said did not happen in his case.

On Nov. 18, Carter says he hand delivered a union resignation letter revoking payroll deduction to PCA. He said he then attempted to submit a copy of the letter to two union stewards, but says that they refused to accept the letter and instead told him to give it the union president, which Martin claims he did.

After the letter was accepted, PCA stopped deducting union fees. However, in December, the lawsuit claims that PCA officials told Martin that they would resume deducting from his wages. They said his revocation letter was rejected "as untimely, based on his check off." Deductions to Martin's paycheck resumed in January.

The lawsuit asks for PCA and the United Steelworkers Local 231 to follow federal worker guidelines pertaining to employee check-offs, and to compensate Martin for what he claims are "illegally seized dues," as well as court costs and attorney's fees.

Carter's lawsuit claims that the check-off authorization policy violates federal law because it lasts longer than one year, and violates Wisconsin's Right to Work law by not allowing employees to stop dues deductions at any time with a 30-day notice.

Because requests to have deductions stop are only accepted 15 days after the annual check-off date, and deductions would stop the month after the employee request them to end, the lawsuit alleges that the employee's annual check-off is effective for at least 367 days, up to 426 days.

The complaint alleges that the 15-day window in which a person can cancel the deductions is meant to "burden and thwart employees' legal rights to revoke their check off and thereafter honor the revoke their check off and refrain from financially assisting the union."

The lawsuit also alleges that the company is violating the Right to Work Law and the Labor Management Relations Act by allowing the company to deduct employee funds to provide to a labor organization as terms of employment, and for the union to accept those funds against an employee's wishes.

"As this case shows, union bosses play fast and loose with workers' rights in their attempt to trap them into forced dues payments against their will, which is precisely why Wisconsin legislators enacted the Right to Work law's provision giving workers the option of cutting off dues payments within 30 days of asking to do so," National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said.

The Journal Times made multiple calls to the Packaging Corporation of America's corporate office, which went unreturned. The United Steelworkers Local 231 acknowledged that they are aware of the lawsuit, but said they could not comment on the lawsuit.

As of Thursday, neither entity has filed an answer to the complaint.

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