The City of Shelton will not have to pay $2,000 in union “initiation fees” to the Teamsters Union after a decision by the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations, which hinged largely on what qualifies as union dues.

The City of Shelton was ordered in 2021 to pay back dues for four employees after the same Labor Relations Board found the city had extended the employees’ probationary period without consulting with the Teamsters Local 145 and retaliating against the union in violation of the Municipal Employees Relations Act (MERA).

The dues owed to the Teamsters was $64 per month, per employee, resulting in $5,120 in back dues that the city paid, but the union claimed back dues also meant a $500 “initiation fee” for each member, which is outlined on the union membership card.

The Teamsters contended that there is no distinction between “dues” and “fees,” arguing the initiation fee is required to obtain membership and dues are required to maintain membership, but city disagreed, arguing they had paid all the retroactive dues owed to the Teamsters, but were not required to pay such fees.

The Board of Labor Relations sided with the city. “We did not order the City to pay initiation fees,” the decision said. “While the union contends that there is no distinction between the two terms, its reliance on dictionary definitions is misplaced in this case. Although dues may be a required payment, not all required payments are dues. In our experience, initiation fees are a separate and distinct payment which employers may or may not deduct in addition to union fees.”

The union argued that the Labor Board’s previous decision “intended” the city to make the four employees whole again, which includes paying their dues and initiation fees, but the Labor Board said the union never requested the employees be made whole, only that their back dues be paid.

“The Union never requested a make whole remedy or back dues, with or without initiation fees, in either of its complaints,” the Board wrote. “Furthermore, we express our intent through the language that we choose. In this case, we explicitly limited the remedy to back union dues.”

The original case, decided in 2021, centered on whether the City could unilaterally extend the probationary period for four new full-time employees from six months, per the union contract, to 12 months under a memorandum of understanding sent by the city’s administrative assistant, John Basher.

The prospective employees had all previously been part-time workers for Shelton’s City Department of Highways and Bridges and all signed the MOU to extend their probationary periods. 

The union, however, disagreed with the change. Teamsters Local 145 secretary-treasurer Dennis Novak wrote that he was happy the city hired these four individuals, there was no need to extend the period and alter provisions in the contract and refused to sign the MOU. The full-time offers to the four employees were ultimately rescinded.

When the city moved to hire the same four workers to do the same work at the same pay as the full-time job on a contractual basis, they all signed union membership cards to have union dues deducted from their pay, but the city denied their memberships, saying that since the employment offers had been rescinded so should the union membership applications.

The Labor Board ordered the city to cease and desist from dealing directly with prospective employees for bargaining unit positions, hire the four employees to the positions offered to them with back pay, and pay the union back dues.

Shelton had been at odds with Local 145 in 2022 over contract negotiations that had reached a stalemate.

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Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels,...

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