Charlene Carter was fired from her job as a Southwest flight attendant after a Transportation Workers Union (TWU) official reported Carter for “harassment” because she sent Facebook messages that criticized the union’s heavy involvement in politics. Fortunately, a Texas jury saw through Southwest’s and the union’s attempts to justify ending the veteran flight attendant’s career, finding that Carter was illegally fired for her political views and her opposition to unionization and awarding her $5.1 million in damages.
Carter’s firing is a striking example of the dangers workers face when they speak out against unionization. Carter is a pro-life Christian who resigned her union membership in 2013 after learning that her union dues were being used to promote abortion and other political causes she disagreed with. But union officials continued to seize dues from her paycheck.
Flight attendants and other airline or railroad employees can all be forced to pay money to a union because they are subject to the federal Railway Labor Act, which even preempts state Right to Work laws that would otherwise prohibit forced union dues. (RELATED: MCMAHON: On Labor Day, The Data Shows The Struggles Of Our Country’s Small Businesses And Workers)
Workers who don’t like what union officials are doing with their money are incentivized to simply stay silent and comply. Charlene Carter chose to speak out. Her open political stances and vocal criticism of union officials’ decisions put her at risk in a workplace where union activists were calling for “targeted assassinations” of dissenting workers.
Emails presented at Carter’s trial revealed that TWU loyalist Brian Talburt told Southwest manager Sonya Lacore that he was “all about targeted assassinations.” One assassination target Talburt proposed was Corliss King, an African American woman and opponent of union leadership whom the union activist described as “incredibly dangerous” because she would “play VERY well to the heavy inner city, minority crowd…”
Talburt later claimed in an email to then-TWU Local 556 President Audrey Stone that also advocated for “assassinations” of union critics that he had “a very close working relationship with Sonya” who now is a Senior VP at Southwest overseeing all flight attendants.
Charlene Carter placed herself on the TWU’s hit list in 2013 when she resigned her union membership. She sent an email to union officials asking that money cease being deducted from her paycheck to fund the TWU’s “Committee on Political Education” which uses members’ dues money to endorse candidates Carter opposed. Her email to TWU Local 556’s Treasurer John Parrott was forwarded to several other union officials, whose gleeful responses to Carter’s dissatisfaction were revealed at trial.
Parrott himself said “Ha! She has been supporting the thing she despises this entire time…” Local 556 Recording Secretary Cuyler Thompson wrote “this just made my morning.” Local VP Brett Nevarez wrote “…so typical bat****/dip*** cannot read her paycheck!” to which fellow VP Todd Gage responded “I wish you could give her a list of all the campaigns she has donated to in the last 17 years! Her head would explode.”
When workers decide not to speak out against union abuses, it is because they fear exactly the kind of reaction Charlene Carter elicited from the TWU hierarchy. And in a workplace like Southwest Airlines, where management and union officials are so cozy that union militants can talk openly about “assassinations,” exercising one’s freedom of speech becomes a serious danger.
That danger became real for Carter when she was hauled in front of Southwest managers at then-TWU Local 556 President Audrey Stone’s request and questioned about her pro-life Facebook posts and messages. Carter defended her beliefs, saying she fundamentally disagreed with the unions’ political stances, yet she was fired a week later.
Carter’s case shows one of the many reasons why Congress needs to pass the National Right to Work Act to protect workers in all 50 states and across every industry from forced union dues.
The existing legal protections are not enough.
Because of federal exemptions like the Railway Labor Act, state Right to Work laws can’t protect every worker from being forced to contribute to a union that revels in making political contributions union bosses know rank-and-file workers are opposed to.
And although the Supreme Court ruled decades ago that unions can’t charge workers for politics, union officials routinely record political expenses into the wrong categories. In the messages Carter sent to then-Local 556 President Audrey Stone that were ultimately used as a pretext for firing her, she denounced union officials’ presence at the anti-Trump “women’s march” in Washington. TWU bosses’ trip to the march would have been classified as a “representational activity” – fully chargeable even to workers who demanded their money not contribute to union politics.
No one should be forced to send money to a union, especially one with open contempt for them and their beliefs. Only Right to Work legislation at the federal level will protect every American from forced union dues.
Mark Mix is the president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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