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Former NKY worker at Duro Hilex Poly tells state official that steelworkers union forced her to be a member

An Erlanger-based employee of paper bag manufacturer Duro Hilex Poly is asking the Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet Secretary to prosecute the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 832 union and the company for violating Kentucky’s Right to Work law.

The complaint notes that Local 832 officials are illegally demanding both union membership and full dues payment from workers as a condition of staying employed, a clear violation of the Commonwealth’s Right to Work law that makes union membership and financial support strictly voluntary.

The employee, Melva Hernandez, is receiving free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. She maintains that the company deducted dues money illegally from her paycheck for the union as the result of a forced unionism contract provision that cannot lawfully be enforced in Kentucky.

Because the dues seizures and other conduct the union perpetrated are also illegal under federal law, she has also filed federal unfair labor practice charges at National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 9 in Cincinnati.

In Kentucky and 26 other states with Right to Work protections, union membership and union financial support are strictly voluntary and the choice of each individual worker. Private-sector workers employed in states lacking such protections must rely on federal labor law, which authorizes union officials in non-Right to Work states to demand some union “fees” from workers under their control as a condition of employment. Kentucky enacted Right to Work in 2017, one of five states to pass a Right to Work law since 2012.

Even though federal law permits compulsory union “fees” in non-Right to Work states, it prohibits compulsory union membership and requires union officials to obtain written consent from a worker before deducting union dues or fees directly from his or her paychecks.

Hernandez has worked at Duro Hilex Poly since 2011 and maintains that she was “forced to become and remain a member of the union and pay dues as a condition of employment,” despite never signing any document authorizing dues payment.

Her complaint to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet recounts that she first submitted a letter to union officials in August 2021 exercising her right to end her union membership and all dues deductions to the union. A union agent rejected her request, alleging that it would only be accepted within a so-called “escape period” created by union officials.

The complaint says Hernandez resubmitted her request in April 2022 on a date falling within the “escape period,” only to be redirected by union agents to USW Local 832 President Tara Purnhagen.

After Hernandez tendered her resignation to Purnhagen, “Ms. Purnhagen scolded and harassed me, accusing me of trying to convince my fellow co-workers to drop their union memberships,” Hernandez’s complaint says. Purnhagen also forbade Hernandez from discussing with her coworkers reasons to refrain from union membership.

“As of today’s filing, the company and the union have not reimbursed me for the money seized in union dues in violation of Kentucky law,” the complaint says.

Hernandez points out in the complaint “These acts violate [Kentucky’s Right to Work law] because it is unlawful to require employees, as a condition of employment, to become or remain members of a labor organization or to pay any money to a labor organization as a condition of employment.” Her federal charges argue that union officials’ actions also infringe on her rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects the right of workers to abstain from union activities if they choose, and not be retaliated against by union officials for exercising or advocating that right.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation

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