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, but you may be required to pay union fees.
Employment relations for employees in the railway and airline industries are covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). Railway and airline employees are not protected by state Right to Work laws.
Under the RLA, you cannot be required to be a member of a union or pay it any monies as a condition of employment unless the collective bargaining agreement between your employer and your union contains a provision requiring all employees to either join the union or pay union fees.
Even if there is such a provision in the agreement, the most that can be required of you is to pay the union fees (generally called an "agency fee").
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.
The Supreme Court, in Ellis v. BRAC, 466 U.S. 435 (1984), a lawsuit that was supported by the Foundation, ruled that objecting nonmembers cannot be required to pay union dues. The most that nonnmembers 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 with their employer.
Except in extraordinary cases, the union’s costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment do not equal the dues amount.
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 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:
- Can I be required to be a union member or pay dues to a union?
- How can I resign my union membership?
- How do I cut off the use of my dues for politics and other nonbargaining activities?
- What if I have religious objections to joining or financially supporting a union?
- What if I am a victim of union violence?
- What if I want to work during a strike?