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Union Tribunal's $10,000 Hit On Electrician Brings Federal Labor Lawsuit

Former union contractor now working for wife's nonunion shop — and she was also threatened

A Michigan electrician alleges that union officials violated federal law by retaliating against him for working at his wife’s business, a nonunion shop.

Charles Lanning is suing officers of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58, based in Detroit. His lawsuit alleges that they failed to inform him of his right to stop paying union dues when he went to work for his wife, whose employees had not been organized by IBEW and not subject to a collective bargaining contract. The union subsequently fined him and, according to Lanning, threatened him and his wife with retaliation.

The National Right to Work Foundation is representing Lanning in his suit.

According to the foundation’s president, Mark Mix, “Michigan union bosses are shamelessly attacking a man for choosing to work alongside his wife all to expand their coercive power over individual workers.”

Lanning’s lawsuit states that he worked as a union contractor from 2008 to 2018, after which he began working at the business owned by his wife. That’s when, he says, union officials told him that he would still be required to pay quarterly dues, even though his wife’s business was nonunion and he was not seeking other work through the union.

In 2012, Michigan enacted a right-to-work law that made it unlawful for unions and employers to require workers to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment. But based on incorrect information given to him by the electrical union, Lanning continued paying dues. The lawsuit alleges that in 2019, IBEW Local 58 officials put pressure on Lanning’s wife to sign a collective bargaining agreement. She refused, and the union brought disciplinary charges against Lanning.

During the hearing before a union tribunal that followed, Lanning alleged that union officials threatened retirement benefits he had been promised and indicated they may retaliate against his wife’s business. Ultimately, the tribunal fined the electrician $10,000 for violating the union’s constitution and bylaws.

Lanning’s lawsuit argues that the fine is a form of retaliation that is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act.

“This brazen behavior, combined with IBEW bosses’ long-running misinformation campaign against Lanning concerning his rights, are just one example of the continuing widespread corruption among Michigan union bosses that Foundation attorneys will continue to fight,” said Mix.

IBEW Local 58 President Kimberly L'Heureux did not respond to an email seeking comment on this story.