The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has accused the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of discriminating against a Giant Eagle employee who refused to join the union because he said it violated his religious beliefs.
The organization also accused Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle of firing the employee, Josiah Leonatti, after he asked for a religious accommodation to work at the chain without joining the union.
According to the LDF, Leonatti claims that officials from UFCW Local 1776-Keystone State refused to consider his religious beliefs after he expressed religious objections to joining and paying dues to the union and subjected him to a “religion test” to determine whether his religious beliefs count.
Neither the UFCW local nor Giant Eagle could be reached for comment.
Leonatti had begun training for a cashier position at a Giant Eagle supermarket in North Huntingdon, Pa., when he was told that he needed to join the union, according to the LDF. He expressed his religious objections in a letter to the union and in person, the LDF said, but was fired by Giant Eagle. The company offered to re-hire him two weeks later, according to the LDF.
The LDF said it filed the charges at both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Leonatti accuses the UFCW local and Giant Eagle of breaching Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Title VII requires unions and employers to accommodate employees who have religious objections to joining or supporting a union. The NLRA also prohibits forced union membership regardless of a worker’s reason for not wanting to affiliate with a union, according to the LDF. Leonatti’s Title VII claims will be investigated by the EEOC; the NLRB will handle his NLRA claims, the LDF said.
“Union bosses’ attempt to coerce a high schooler to violate his religious beliefs is unconscionable, and illegal,” said Mark Mix, president of the LDF. “Regardless of their particular reasons for not wanting to affiliate with a union, no employee’s job should hinge on whether he or she pays dues to a private organization.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal aid to employees who accuse companies of violating their human or civil rights through mandatory union rules.
The Giant Eagle case is similar to one brought against CVS and the UFCW late last year. Lynn Gray, a CVS worker at a store in Evanston, Ill., alleged that she had been fired illegally for refusing to join UFCW Local 881. She was rehired after the LDF helped her file federal unfair labor practice charges at the NLRB against both the union and CVS, the LDF said.
Other unions that the LDF has opposed in workers’ rights cases include the Transport Workers Union, the Teamsters, the United Steelworkers and others.