Labor board to review case filed by CVS worker who said she was fired for refusing union membership

The National Labor Relations Board is scheduled to review a complaint filed by a 68-year-old part-time employee of an Evanston, Illinois, pharmacy who said she was fired for refusing to join a union.

Lynn Gray, who began working at the Evanston CVS Pharmacy in Oct. 2022, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board after she said she was fired Dec. 15 for failing to join Local United Food and Commercial Workers 881 Union. She has since been reinstated and a meeting to begin reviewing the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board is scheduled for Jan. 11.

According to Gray, she was informed the store was unionized during the interview process in early October but wasn’t told that union membership was mandatory. She said she had never previously worked for a job that had the option to join a union and wanted to take some time to consider her options and ask questions of the store’s union representative.

“I kind of felt like ‘oh my God, I’m engaged to this person and I’m going to the wedding and I’m not really sure if I want to be married here,’ ” she said. “I wanted to know what their record was.”

She is being represented by the National Right to Work Foundation, an organization that opposes unions and forced membership. Gray said she contacted the group after doing online research.

After asking her boss to set up a meeting with the union, Gray said she received a letter from the union saying she owed $191.51 in dues and would be terminated if it was not paid. She replied with a check for the amount owed and a letter stating she did so in order to keep her job.

This method of union membership refusal is allowable under the employees Beck right, established after a Supreme Court decision stating that members can be billed the amount of dues for the union to represent them in collective bargaining and contract negotiation but nothing more. According to the National Labor Relations Board website, these employees are not full members of the union but are protected by union contracts.

Gray said she has still not been notified how much monthly dues would cost for her union representation.

On Dec. 15, Gray said her boss called to terminate her employment at the Union’s request for failing to become a member. She filed her complaints about CVS and the union the following day.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Founder Mark Mix said the group wrote a letter to the NLRB leading to Gray’s reinstatement.

“That’s what happens in lots of these cases,” Mix said.

Local United Food and Commercial Workers 881 Union officials did not return call for comment. CVS officials also did not return requests for comment.

The Right to Work movement has a contentious history in Illinois and was rejected by voters in the November 2022 election when voters backed a referendum to add a fundamental right for workers to unionize to the state constitution. The amendment will also ban right to work laws in the private sector, becoming the first state to do so, with supporters of the amendment saying those laws limit the power of unions and their members.

Right to work laws have been enacted in states such as Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

When initially told she would have to join the union to remain at that CVS, Gray was told by CVS’ human resource department that she could transfer to another location that doesn’t have union representation but she chose to stay.

“Right now, I’m into this whole thing. For me to switch over right now during all of this, it’s gotta be worth something,” she said. “It’s gotten my ire up here and I want to follow it through and at least go on the record with the labor relation board.”

Gray hopes that from her meeting with the NLRB she will be compensated for the two days between her firing and reinstatement. She also wants this to be seen as a teachable moment for CVS to better represent their workers.

“They need to kind of have their hands slapped about that they need to be more knowledgeable when people call in trying to get advice on what direction to take,” Gray said. “You shouldn’t have to just flounder around.”

A representative from the NLRB said that the matter is under investigation and if the charges are found to have merit, a formal complaint will be issued and sent to an administrative law judge for a hearing unless a settlement is reached.