At least one-quarter of unionized workers at Bayer Corp.’s Berkeley facility were barred by their union from voting on a new contract Wednesday because they had refused to pay a $40 surcharge after an embezzlement scheme had depleted union coffers of more than $100,000.
The workers at Bayer who remain in good standing with the union voted by a ratio of 2-1 to approve the new three-year contract, said Donald Mahon, business agent for the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union Local 6.
The new contract, which will give most of Bayer’s 551 unionized employees incremental raises, goes into effect Monday.
“I don’t have a problem with the contract, but I think the union is crooked,” said Deborah Burr, a maintenance worker at Bayer.
According to Local 6, about 150 employees refused to pay the surcharge, but Burr and other Bayer workers said that the number is closer to 300. Local 6 refused to release the exact vote tally to the Daily Planet or workers interviewed on Thursday.
“I don’t think it’s right for the union to charge us $40 because someone in the union stole money,” Burr said.
Local 6 voted to assess the extra fee in 2003 to its members after former president Robert Flotte could not account for union dues.
Mahon said Local 6 has filed a lawsuit against Flotte, his brother, and the union’s former secretary treasurer to recoup the funds, but added that the lawsuit is on hold because the defendants have filed for bankruptcy.
No criminal charges were filed against the three men. Mahon said the Department of Labor didn’t aggressively pursue the case. “If the investigator they have now was working for them in 2003 there might have been charges filed,” he said.
Still, Mahon said the union was fully within its rights to bar Bayer employees from voting on the contract. “To be able to vote you have to be a member in good standing, which means you have to be current on dues and assessments,” he said.
Mahon added that nearly all of the local’s 3,000 workers paid the $40 and that Bayer was the one shop that resisted the surcharge.
“Bayer is different,” Mahon said. “They have a lot of people who are working at their first jobs and are from a white collar background. It takes some people a while to figure out what a union is all about. They want the benefits of a union without paying for it.”
Hector Prado, a maintenance worker, who paid the $40 surcharge, disagreed with the union’s stance. “I don’t think it’s right for the union to charge us $40 because the former president ran away with our money,” he said. Prado pays $67 a month in union dues.
Last week, union members rejected a contract that would have left janitors facing a pay cut from $20.29 to $18 an hour, while most other employees would have received annual raises of 3.5 percent in the first two years and four percent in the third year, plus a $750 signing bonus.
Under the contract approved by the union Wednesday, janitors will continue to make $20.29, but no employees will receive the signing bonus and non-janitors will now get a 3.8 percent raise in the third year.