Question: How do I cut off the use of my dues for politics and other nonbargaining activities?

[NOTE: You must be a non-member to avail yourself of the rights discussed on this page. If you are currently a member of the union, you must first become a non-member and then object in order to receive your dues rebate or reduction. To learn how to become a non-member, click here.]

Answer: You have a right to pay a reduced fee to the union if you are not a union member and you have sent a letter to the union objecting to paying for more than collective bargaining expenses.

The Supreme Court, in Ellis v. BRAC, 466 U.S. 435 (1984), a lawsuit that was supported by the Foundation, ruled that under the Railway Labor Act the most that nonmembers can be required to pay is 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.

Employment relations for almost all employees in the airline and railroad industries are covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). Railway and airline employees are not protected by state Right to Work laws.

Ellis makes clear that nonmembers required to pay union fees as a condition of employment have a right under the RLA to object and obtain a reduction of their compulsory payments so that they do not include union expenses for purposes other than collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment.

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 decisionmaker; 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. The lower courts agree that Hudson, which involved public employees, applies under the RLA.

If you are a nonmember and would like to see a sample objection letter that will allow you to pay a reduced union fee and keep part of the money that you have been sending to the union, click here. You should check with the union to see if it has a policy concerning when and to whom Ellis objections should be sent. For links to union objection policies on the Internet, click here.

Although you may wish to include in your objection letter the line that says your objection is continuing and permanent, some unions will not honor this and will make you annually renew your objections. The courts have issued inconsistent decisions on this point.

If you would like to get an idea of the kind of union expenses which are not chargeable to nonmembers, click here.

If you would like to learn more about your rights as a railway or airline employee, click on the appropriate question below: