union issues

Congressional witnesses accuse unions of fostering hostile, antisemitic environments

‘I’ve tried to use the law as it exists, and at every turn, the law has failed me,’ William Sussman, a graduate student worker at MIT, said


Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Bob Good (R-VA)

Two witnesses testifying before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday said that their unions have created deeply hostile environments for them as Jewish people who support Israel.

William Sussman, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the school’s graduate student worker union, which is part of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE), highlighted the union’s involvement in and promotion of anti-Israel, antisemitic and pro-Hamas activity. He said he’s required to pay dues to the union, which threatened that anyone who refused to pay would be subject to termination.

Sussman filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which sided with him, saying that the union had violated his rights. But Sussman said that NLRB had failed to take corrective action and allowed the behavior by the union to continue.

“I’ve tried to use the law as it exists, and at every turn, the law has failed me,” Sussman said during the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee hearing.

Sussman then requested a religious accommodation to divert his compulsory union dues to a charity, but was denied, with the union declaring that his religious beliefs were not relevant to the situation.

“In other words, UE thinks it understands my faith better than I do,” he said.

Sussman was able to receive religious accommodations after he and five other students filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“UE represents graduate students at a dozen other universities, and it should not take five discrimination charges to exercise our freedom of religion and association,” Sussman said, urging the committee to pass “right to work” legislation prohibiting mandatory union dues and membership.

Ilana Kopmar, an attorney at the Nassau County Legal Aid Society and member of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, part of the United Auto Workers, said that the ALAA had created a hostile environment for her and other Jewish members by pushing and adopting a one-sided, anti-Israel resolution and posture toward the conflict.

When Kopmar filed a lawsuit against the union seeking to block the resolution, she said the union retaliated against her and ignored her concerns, and that she faced subsequent harassment and death threats. A paid union staffer also accused her and other pro-Israel union members of trying to undermine the union.

“I’m not here to weaken the union, but to strengthen it. The union is tearing itself apart,” Kopmar said. “Union leadership has a duty to protect its members from bias and discrimination, not foster attacks against its Jewish and non-Jewish Zionist members. This is not how a union should act, and we should not be forced to support these discriminatory actions.”

Republicans argued at the hearing that these experiences, and similar ones outlined by Glenn Taubman, a staff attorney at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, highlight the necessity for nationwide “right to work” laws.

Democrats, who largely oppose such legislation, pushed for greater funding of the NLRB, which adjudicates disputes on these matters and helps inform union members of their rights, and have generally defended unions writ large. 

Some Democrats accused Republicans of using a few examples of unacceptable behavior to smear unions more broadly. Some also emphasized that unions’ policies and positions, such as the ALAA’s anti-Israel resolution, are decided through a democratic process by union members.

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