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California Christian fights forced union membership

A security guard hopes to avoid paying union dues

A worker on strike holds a sign for a Service Employees International Union in Los Angeles, CA. Getty Images/Photo by Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times

California Christian fights forced union membership

In 2020, Thomas Ross began work in San Francisco as a guard for the world’s largest security firm, Allied Universal. He did so with this understanding: He would not belong to the Service Employees International Union or pay union dues. His Bible and conscience led Ross to opt out.

For two years, the religious exemption seemed sufficient. Then on Aug. 30, Ross claimed Allied Universal demanded he sign paperwork for union membership and dues. After restating his religious objections, Ross said Allied Universal deducted union dues anyway and on Sept. 15 threatened to replace him.

Ross filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board. He cites Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects against religion-based discrimination, along with the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which protects employees from union coercion.

California is not among the 27 states with “right to work” laws. In right-to-work states, private-sector workers may bow out of union membership and dues altogether. In California, labor law is not so cut-and-dry at unionized workplaces, said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is providing free legal aid to Ross.

Ross isn’t required to join the union at Allied Universal. Federal law prevents coerced membership as a condition of employment. However in California, without right-to-work protection, union officials can require Ross to pay up to 100 percent of union fees, though he may choose to pay fees to a charitable organization

That alternative allows Ross to avoid union activities that clash with his beliefs. He documented those beliefs to company and union officials in a letter, citing Ephesians 6:5-7, I Peter 2:18, James 5:4, and other verses.

“I do not bargain with Jesus Christ,” Ross wrote. “I submit to Jesus Christ. The Bible requires the same obedience to my employer.” Aggrieved workers are to cry to God while demonstrating sacrificial love and nonresistance, he added—not band together to make demands of their employer. Christ rejected the principle of force and coercion often involved in union membership, according to Ross, who said he could not support union causes the Bible condemns. 

Mix said Ross is hoping to win a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In that scenario, Ross could avoid both union membership and the payment of dues or fees.

In July, a federal jury in Texas awarded $5.1 million to Charlene Carter, a former Southwest Airlines flight attendant, in a discrimination suit against the airline and a transportation workers union. That case pivoted on Carter’s 2017 firing, after she voiced objection to her union dues funding a Planned Parenthood march that supported abortion.

Carter’s case emerged from an EEOC complaint like the one Ross filed in October. Ross also filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint in November. Mix said administrative action could take months before a settlement or court case ensues.

Meanwhile, Allied Universal has returned union dues to Ross and discontinued the payroll deductions, his attorneys confirmed. Still, the only official correspondence Ross has received from the company and the union threatens his termination without providing him a religious accommodation, said Jacob Comello, a spokesman for the right-to-work foundation. Ross still works for Allied Universal, a global security business with $20 billion in annual revenue.

The union affiliate in California did not respond to questions about the Ross case, while the company’s Kari Garcia issued a statement: “Allied Universal takes these allegations very seriously and we are investigating the matter. We are committed to treating all people fairly, protecting safety and privacy, and upholding ethical business practices at all times. As this is a personnel matter, we are unable to provide more details.”

“The real sad part of the story is that this goes on all the time, all over the place,” Mix said. “And unless the employee—like Thomas Ross, who has a sincere religious objection to what the unions are doing—if they don’t have the courage to stand up and fight it, basically this goes on and on.”

Gary Perilloux

Gary is a native of Hammond, La., and an alumnus of Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University. Over three decades, he worked as an editor and reporter in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and as communications director for Louisiana Economic Development. A 2022 graduate of WORLD Journalism Institute, he and his wife reside in Baton Rouge, La.


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