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Opinion

Court exempts union bosses from laws against identity theft

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One November day in 2007, 33 AT&T workers in central North Carolina found out that their Social Security numbers and other private information had been posted for the world to see -- exposing them to identity theft and credit fraud.

There has never been any doubt about who posted the workers' private information, but the perpetrators have now escaped justice.

All the employees whose names and personal information were posted had exercised their freedom under North Carolina's Right to Work law to resign from membership in a labor union -- the Communications Workers of America, or CWA -- and cease paying union dues.

In retaliation, the union bosses of CWA Local 3602 proved that they know no bounds when it comes to making workers toe the union line. When these workers exercised their right to refrain from union affiliation, they were subjected to an extended union campaign of workplace harassment and intimidation.

After the workers exercised their Right to Work, CWA union official Judy Brown emailed a spreadsheet that contained the employees' personal data (including their Social Security numbers) to other CWA officials with instructions to "forward this information to your affected locals." CWA Local 3602 union president John Glenn posted the spreadsheet on a public bulletin board. Other CWA union officials likely disseminated the information through email and other means.

A resulting National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, investigation affirmed that the employees' personal information was posted, but the board's general counsel refused to prosecute the union. Therefore, in June 2008, AT&T employee Jason Fisher and 15 other employees, represented by National Right to Work Foundation attorneys, filed a lawsuit in state court under North Carolina's Identity Theft Protection Act, or ITPA, against Local 3602 and its parent unions.

Incredibly, both the trial court and the North Carolina Court of Appeals found that the unions are entitled to a special exemption from being penalized for revealing employees' personal information. Both courts ruled that such trampling of employee rights is an activity that can be covered only by the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, and consequently may not be punished by state authorities.

Imagine that. North Carolina's courts have held that federal labor law pre-empts a completely unrelated state identity theft law, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that a state retains jurisdiction where the conduct to be regulated touches deeply rooted local interests.

In a last ditch effort to help these workers seek justice, National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court announced earlier this month that it will not hear the case.

This saga underscores how even in Right to Work states, union officials enjoy government-granted privileges that no other private organization in the country would even dream of. In most states, union officials possess the extraordinary power to force employees to accept unwanted union representation in any unionized workplace in America. And union officials can dictate the terms of employment and have access to employees' private and confidential information even if those workers want nothing to do with the union.

Union officials enjoy many more powers and immunities created by the federal government and courts. For example, the Supreme Court's infamous 1973 Enmons decision exempts union officials from federal prosecution for violent activities "used to gain legitimate union objectives." This baffling immunity gives union thugs license to harass, intimidate and even attack independent-minded workers.

And now North Carolina union officials can disclose workers' private information without penalty.

Union bosses continue to exploit these and other government-granted powers to force more workers into dues-paying union ranks and punish workers who do not toe the union line. Until union bosses are stripped of their special government-granted privileges, they will likely continue to invade workplace privacy, harass employees at work and at home, or worse. Unfortunately for 33 AT&T workers in North Carolina, that time will come too late.

Mark Mix is president of National Right to Work.

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