MUNSTER | Pepsi Beverages Co. transport driver Tom Albano said he's had no problem paying dues to unions during more than 30 years working in the steel and transportation industries.
But Albano said he and other members of the Gary-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 142 say they have an issue with their dues being increased without adequate explanation verbally or in print to members.
Union officials dispute that claim, and said they believe dues are set and collected appropriately based on guidelines set by the international organization.
About 250 workers, of which 19 are transport drivers, are part of the Teamsters Local 142 bargaining unit at Pepsi, according to the union.
"We don't expect special treatment," Albano said. "But we don't expect to get treated like this."
With Indiana becoming the nation's 23rd right-to-work state last year, workers may have more leverage than ever to pull financial resources away from union that represent them in the workplace for any reason they choose. And in disputes, unions will be choose between taking a hard-line approach with certain members or in taking a conciliatory approach to keep dues flowing in to sustain operations.
The Teamsters Constitution requires locals to charge individuals with positions such as transport drivers 2 1/2 times their hourly rates for dues per month.
Transport drivers don't have a set hourly rate, but they earn the same rate per run. Albano, who is serving as a spokesman for workers within the transport division, said transport drivers are guaranteed a minimum weekly wage of $650, provided the driver works at least 40 hours in a week under their current bargaining agreement. Based on those numbers, Albano said members would be willing to pay about $41 a month, or $492 annually, in dues. The $492 figure is also close to what Pepsi transport drivers with Teamsters Local 710 in Chicago pay and comparable to what warehouse workers for Pepsi in Munster pay.
But the union local uses a different calculation. For transport drivers, Teamsters Local 142 Secretary-Treasurer Richard Knipp said a person's gross earnings are divided by the total number of hours worked and then the result is multiplied by 2.5. He said the calculation has been done the same way for the last seven years and dues calculations are completed in March of each year.
"We believe everything done has been done correctly based on the (Teamsters) Constitution," Knipp said.
That calculation yields a higher dues payment. Albano paid $854 for union dues in 2012, up from $790 in 2011. Monthly payments in 2012 included several adjustments during the year with the rate being as high as $92 a month.
"We're being gouged as far as what other drivers are being charged," Albano said. "It's all messed up, and they're not being consistent with their dues to all members."
He said the overpayment since the beginning of the contract, which was Feb. 3, 2008, should be refunded to the drivers.
As a result of the complaints, Knipp said representatives from the union's national office completed an audit of the local's records and dues-setting provisions last year. He said the local is awaiting a decision on the matter from the union's national office in Washington, D.C. But if dues were calculated incorrectly, then officials would coordinate a meeting with workers and hash out the issues.
David White, a spokesman from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters office in Washington, D.C., said the union doesn't comment on ongoing investigations and declined to provide further information about the matter.
When reached about the matter Wednesday, a representative from Teamsters Local 710 in Mokena, Ill., said a representative would return The Times call with more information, but the call was not returned.
The National Labor Relations Board opened an investigation into the matter last month and the case remains open.
Robert Cervone, a Chicago-based attorney for the Teamsters local, said he's confident the National Labor Relations Board charge will be dismissed because matters of setting dues rates are outside of the agency's purview. He said the union local has worked with its parent organization to ensure the collection structure is correct.
Anthony Riedel, spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said his organization has had a "big" uptick in workers seeking information about how they could withdraw from their union and stop paying dues. Indiana's right-to-work law also exempted existing labor agreements from being subject to right-to-work provisions. So for those individuals, Riedel said people have been told about requesting dues not be used for political activities.
The state's right-to-work law forbids businesses or unions from requiring a person to pay dues or fees to a labor organization as a condition of employment. Transport drivers could opt-out of the union once the current bargaining agreement with Pepsi expires in May if they choose.
"My biggest fear is that a lot of these guys will opt out," said Steve Donnowitz, a local Pepsi transport driver who has worked at the company for 31 years. "When you opt out, you can't vote on future contracts. You can't go to the union hall. ... (But) in my opinion it's greed. They want to line their pockets any way they can."