Can I be required to be a union member or pay dues to a union? 

[En español] 

Question: Can I be required to be a union member or pay dues to a union?

Answer: You cannot be required to be a union member in any state.

If you are not a member, you are still fully covered by the collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated between your employer and the union, and the union is obligated to represent you. Any benefits that are provided to you by your employer pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement (e.g., wages, seniority, vacations, pensions, health insurance) are not affected by your nonmembership. (If the union offers some "members-only" benefits, you might be excluded from receiving those.)

If you are not a member, you may not be able to participate in union elections or meetings, vote in collective bargaining ratification elections, or participate in other "internal" union activities. However, you cannot be disciplined by the union for anything you do while not a member.

A number of states have passed laws which either require, or authorize public employers and labor unions to negotiate agreements which require, all educators to either join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues as a condition of employment.

However, as a result of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), a lawsuit that was supported by the Foundation, educators cannot be required to do more than pay a union fee (typically called an "agency fee") that equals their share of what the union can prove is its costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment.

Except in extraordinary cases, the union's costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment do not equal the dues amount.

You have a right to object and obtain a reduction of your compulsory agency fee payments so they do not include the part of dues that is used for purposes other than collective bargaining and contract administration.

The employer and the union must establish certain procedures to safeguard your right to pay only a limited fee to the union. These safeguards include giving you:

  • audited financial information about how the amount of the agency fee was calculated;
  • an opportunity to challenge the amount of the agency fee before an impartial decision-maker; and,
  • the right to place the contested amount of the agency fee in escrow so that the union will not be able to illegally use your money while a decision on the proper amount of the agency fee is pending.

Your right to proper safeguards is based upon Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292 (1986), another lawsuit that was supported by the Foundation.

If you work in a Right to Work state, you not only have the right to refrain from becoming a member, you cannot be required to pay anything to the union unless you choose to join the union.

If you would like to see a list of the 24 Right to Work States, click here.


If you would like to learn more about your rights as a public school teacher or college professor, click on the appropriate question below:


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