Florida bus driver April Perez was a vocal opponent of having a union at her workplace, Durham School Services. She even served as the company's election observer during a failed organizing bid by the carpenters union.
So it was a surprise when the day before another organizing election – this time a February 2013 bid by the Teamsters – the union sent out a flier claiming she was among the employees backing collective bargaining.
Perez was shocked. She has subsequently sworn that she never backed the union. Nevertheless the National Labor Relations Board on March 9 threw out a complaint based on her claim. The details of the case present a telling story about the perils of so-called "Card Check" elections.
The Durham election wasn’t a Card Check one, but the Teamsters used the same kind of methods to claim worker support: Approaching employees and getting them to sign pro-union documents. Whether the workers know what they signing -- or if the signatures are even theirs -- isn’t always clear.
That’s the main question in the Durham case. By her own admission, Perez did sign at least two pro-Teamsters documents. But she has claimed that union officials used fraud and pressure tactics. She thinks the same thing may have happened to her coworkers.
In a pair of sworn statements to the NLRB, Perez stated that she attended a January 2013 breakfast meeting hosted by Teamsters Local 991 just so she could ask some questions.
While there, Teamsters officials asked her to sign a card. They claimed it merely indicated that Perez was "ready to vote in the election." Seeing no harm in it, Perez signed.
A week before the election, a Teamster official appeared in the parking lot as Perez was trying to leave work. The official insisted she allow her picture to be taken and refused to take no for an answer. She eventually consented and signed a form just to get rid of him. She never bothered to read it.
"I did not understand either of these documents to indicate that I was in favor of the Union based on the representations of the Union representatives from whom I received the documents," Perez told the NLRB. She could not be reached for comment by the Washington Examiner.
When the Teamsters sent out their election it featured numerous Durham employees announcing "We are voting ‘Teamsters Yes’ for a better future at Durham." Among them was Perez – who was again acting as the company’s election observer.
The union won by a 112-74 vote. The company contended to the NLRB that the Teamsters having such a high-profile "convert" as Perez may have helped tip the election.
There may have been other shenanigans involved. The Teamsters presented the NLRB’s regional director with four pro-union documents bearing Perez’s signature. But she says she only ever signed two.
"I fear that someone may have forged my signature on these other documents," she said in her NLRB statement.
Notably, the release form for the picture the Teamsters took had the words "I want fairness" handwritten on it. Perez says she never wrote that.
She added that, based on conversations with coworkers, that same thing may have happened to some of them.
The company filed an NLRB complaint, arguing the union used workers' pictures without their permission.
The NLRB’s regional director saw no "substantial" evidence of wrongdoing and rejected the company’s complaints without even a hearing. The full board concurred with this, arguing that the fliers were merely "campaign propaganda" and therefore covered as free speech.
Republican appointee Philip Miscimarra dissented, arguing that, "whether Perez did in fact sign the undated, unauthenticated petitions is an issue for the hearing."
Local 991 Secretary-Treasurer Jim Gookins dismissed Durham's NLRB complaint as nothing more than an attempt to delay contract negotiations.
"Regarding Ms. Perez, she voluntarily signed a waiver for the use of her picture and quote," Gookins said in an email to the Washington Examiner. He did not respond to a follow-up email asking about Perez’s claims union officials misrepresented the forms.
A Durham School Services spokeswoman declined to comment other than to say they were still "considering our options" in the case.
For more on the card check, see my story on the subject from the Examiner's five-part series Out Of Touch With America: Are Unions Obsolete?