The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held last Friday that unions can’t force workers that choose not to be in the union to pay for its lobbying activities. This decision holds that fair share fees that some unions require nonmembers to pay en lieu of being in the union can’t be used for lobbying. This follows the U.S. Supreme Court's 1988 decision in Communications Workers of America v. Beck. That decision found that if a worker objected to his/her dues being used for noncore representation activity, the union would violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) if it continued to fund the activity subsequent to the workers objection.
A union’s core duties are collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance handling. The Court held that activities outside these areas, if funded by non-member workers’ dues, would be a breach of the union’s duty of fair representation if the union member objected to the union’s use of worker fees to fund the activity.
Union’s have objected to this holding stating their lobbying can “incidentally affect” collective bargaining. Lobbying could also relate to the terms of employment and the protection of those terms.
Despite arguments that some lobbying benefits nonmember workers, the NLRB majority found it is “not a representational function simply because the proposed legislation involves a matter that may also be the subject of collective bargaining.” The NLRB Board went on to hold unions must also provide independent verification that union dues it is using for lobbying does not include money that would fall under the Beck objectors’ fees. This requirement undoubtably was to ensure a union could not just give lip service to attestation that even some of objecting workers dues did not go into the union’s fund and found its way into those activities regardless of the worker’s objections.
In making this ruling the NLRB was responding to a recent DC Court that had asked it to respond to a nurse’s petition on this issue. The nurse’s petition apparently had been stalled by the Board for some time. Her complaint went back to 2009.
This case continues the NLRB’s swing back to employer and nonunion friendly rulings that have come out during the Trump administration. The 1988 Beck decision has been a fulcrum point between pro-union and pro-employer positions. Whenever the White House changes, the controlling administration has pushed back administration of the Beck ruling (Democratic) or amplified the holding of the Beck ruling (Republican and now this NLRB).
Unions understandably chafe under these decisions, because not only do they recognize a worker’s right to withhold money from the union, they hold the union administratively accountable for documenting that they are not siphoning off dues dollars for their political activities and in turn restraining their political agenda. Union support for their allies in the government go well north of $400 million dollars during an election. These are dues dollars the unions use under the assumption that all of their members agree to the union’s political agenda.
Sources: United Nurses & Allied Professionals (Kent Hospital), case number 01-CB-011135. Unions Can't Make Nonmembers Pay For Lobbying: NLRB By Vin Gurrieri Law360 (March 1, 2019)