MacIver News Service | Aug. 20, 2018

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON  – Wisconsin’s right-to-work law put an end to so-called “union security agreements” that had long forced employees to be in a union as a condition of employment. 

It appears some Wisconsin companies and labor groups haven’t gotten the memo. 

More than three years after Wisconsin’s right-to-work law went into effect, some employers continue to post job ads with union membership requirements, according to information obtained by MacIver News Service. 

Total Residential, a division of Pewaukee-based Total Mechanical, earlier this month posted multiple online ads seeking a residential HVAC service technician/installer. Applicants, the ads note, must have a sheet metal journeyman’s card, be clean in appearance and have good communications skills. 

And there is one more thing applicants must possess. 

“TOTAL Residential is a union shop; if not already a member of Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 18, individual will be required to join,” the ad declares. 

That requirement is illegal under Wisconsin law. 

Section 111.04 spells out the rights of employees in the right to work Badger State. No employer may require, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an employee “(b)ecome or remain a member of a labor organization.” An employee also cannot be compelled to, “Pay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor organization.” 

MacIver News Service reached out to Total Mechanical last week. A company official did not return requests for comment. 

Wisconsin’s right-to-work law also prohibits employers from restricting union membership as a condition of employment. As the name of the law clearly declares, employees have a right to work a job unencumbered by policies that either deny union membership or compel it. 

Global industrial manufacturer Ingersoll Rand, maker of Trane air-conditioners, recently posted an online ad seeking an HVAC field technician at the company’s Appleton Trane facility. Qualifications include a high school diploma or equivalent, two to five years of experience in HVAC, and a valid driver’s license with a clean driving record. 

The position also “requires you to join or be a member of the local union.”

Representatives from Ingersoll Rand could not be reached for comment. 

James Daley, chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, said he could not speak to individual cases but confirmed that the agency has received two right-to-work law complaints in recent days. 

“To the best of my knowledge there have been no complaints filed prior to these involving limiting hiring to union membership as a condition of employment,” Daley said. 

Asked about the penalties for violating the right-to-work law, Daley said that if there is a “bad actor” WERC would have to look at the actions and “attempt to find a remedy in equity for that violation.” 

In another online employment ad, J.F. Ahern Co., a fire protection contractor based in Fond du Lac, is seeking an experienced sprinkler fitter.

The hire would be a member and work through national Sprinkler Fitters Local 669, according to the ad.

Reached for comment Friday, a company official offered a general statement about the firm’s hiring practices. 

“J.F. Ahern strives to comply with all applicable rules and regulations,” general counsel Krista Ebbens said, adding that she would not comment on any specifics. 

The ad does note that the sprinkler fitter would be working on projects in the La Crosse, Eau Claire and Rochester, Minn. areas. Minnesota is not a right-to-work state. It is among 23 states that compel workers to pay union dues, whether they want to be in a union or not. While the new employee would have be in a union or make so-called “fair share” payments in Minnesota, the employee could not be forced to do so in Wisconsin. 

State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), who made right-to-work legislation the centerpiece of his 2014 Senate campaign, said state law is very clear: no worker in Wisconsin can be forced to join a union in order to get a job or keep it. 

“Workers who face these sorts of demands should reach out to their local district attorneys,” the senator said. 

Stroebel said labor unions have been trying to get around worker freedom laws since their implementation. 

“Wisconsin has been a leader in labor reforms and status quo labor bosses don’t like that. They want to go back to a time when they had unfettered power to dictate how, when and where people could earn a living,” he said. “What’s happening in this instance isn’t even an attempt to skirt the law, it is a blatant disregard for the law, it is an intentional violation of the law, and it is absolutely unacceptable. Union bosses are not above the law.”

M. D. KittleM.D. Kittle is an Investigative Reporter with the MacIver Institute. This article appears courtesy of the MacIver Institute.