(The Center Square) – A controversial union contract at a steelworks plant has pitted workers against their union representatives. Though workers twice rejected a contract, union officials ratified it with management. Now, workers who want to decertify the union are barred from doing so for three years.
Latrobe Specialty Steel, also known as Carpenter Technology, in Venango County has seen its workers at odds with their union after a hastily ratified contract.
After the United Steelworkers rejected a new contract in a July 25 vote, employees led by Kerry Hunsberger began to collect signatures for a decertification petition to vote out the union, according to a news release from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents Hunsberger.
When union officials heard about the petition, they signed the contract on July 28. Then, a second vote on the contract was held on Aug. 1. Workers were unaware the contract had been signed, but the vote was irrelevant to the contract negotiations. Though it was a ratification vote, “whether or not a contract takes effect is not contingent upon employees voting to approve a contract,” according to a union post-hearing brief.
As the contract then went into effect, a “contract bar” kicked in, which prevented workers from decertifying their union for three years.
Decertification efforts aren’t common, but they are increasing. National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens noted that decertification petitions increased by 42 percent in 2022.
“This case presents an easy choice for the (National Labor Relations Board): defend the rights of rank-and-file workers or side with Steelworkers union officials who repeatedly misled those workers and twice disregarded their votes simply to protect union power and compulsory dues,” National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said in the news release.
The rushed certification of the contract was done “to preserve the gains bargained in the agreement and pre-empt the decertification petition circulating at the Facility,” the post-hearing brief noted, the contract vote being viewed by union officials as a “courtesy.”
The situation “is another example of how union bosses put their own power and interests ahead of those they claim to ‘represent,'” Semmens said.
Hunsberger filed a brief with the NLRB on Sept. 19, petitioning the NLRB to allow workers to decertify the union.
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.