**Seattle, WA (May 4, 2006)** – With free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Foundation, a Safeway employee filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union for maintaining a discriminatory policy intended to deter workers in King and Kitsat counties from exercising their religious freedoms.
Daniel Gautschi, manager in a Safeway meat department, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington after union officials set forth conditions that force him to affiliate with – and pay additional money to – a union he finds morally offensive if he should ever have an employment grievance.
UFCW Local 81 union officials allowed the forwarding of Gautschi’s forced union dues (paid as a condition of employment) to a charity – an accommodation previously won by Foundation attorneys under federal law. However, they continue to maintain an illegal scheme intended to deter employees from exercising their right to assert religious objections in the first place. The scheme forces only employees who file religious objections to pay the union all costs associated with use of grievance procedures under the bargaining agreement – even though union officials tightly control the process and employees are totally barred from filing grievances on their own.
As a devout Christian, Gautschi believes that supporting the UFCW union violates his sincerely held religious beliefs due to the union hierarchy’s support for special rights for homosexuals.
On October 17, 2005, Gautschi filed charges (also with free legal aid from Foundation attorneys) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC issued a letter to Gautschi dated March 8 advising him he has the right to institute a civil action in federal court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
“Union officials want employees of faith to shut up and pay up,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Employees should not be forced to choose between honoring their faith and exercising their workplace rights.”
Under Title VII, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. To avoid the conflict between an employee’s faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union he or she believes to be immoral, the law requires union officials to attempt to accommodate the employee – most often by designating a mutually acceptable charity to accept the funds.
Gautschi’s lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction barring the UFCW union from discriminating against him on the basis of religion, as well as an order that the union inform all employees under the monopoly bargaining agreement that those with religious objections need not additionally reimburse the union for any costs associated with grievance processing. Union officials demanded and received total monopoly control over the grievance process. Nevertheless, they seek to force religious objectors – but not others covered by the monopoly bargaining agreement – to pay large sums of money to the union if they have a grievance in the workplace.