The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, May/June 2024 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.

Union hierarchy forcing students to pay dues, deny legally-required religious exemption

When Will Sussman declared his religious beliefs forbade him from supporting a union engaged in anti-Israel causes, GSU officials shamelessly (and illegally) went on demanding his money.

BOSTON, MA – “First, no principles, teachings, or tenets of Judaism prohibit membership in or the payment of dues or fees to a labor union . . . Secondly, the statements in your letter demonstrate that your objection to paying dues is based on your political views and not your religious belief.”

This was the brazen response of United Electrical (UE) union officials to five Jewish graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who sought legally-required religious accommodations to the forced payment of dues to the Graduate Student Union (GSU, an affiliate of UE). The students, William Sussman, Joshua Fried, Akiva Gordon, Adina Bechhofer, and Tamar Kadosh Zhitomirsky see funding the union as a violation of their Jewish faith due to, among other reasons, the union’s vocal support for the anti-Israel “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement.

GSU Union, MIT Failed to Provide Religious Accommodations

“Jewish graduate students are a minority. We cannot remove our union, and we cannot talk them out of their antisemitic position — we’ve tried,” explained Sussman in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the situation. “That is why many of us asked for a religious accommodation. But instead of respecting our rights, the union told me they understand my faith better than I do.”

The students are now fighting back with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. In March, they each filed federal discrimination charges against UE and GSU with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), declaring that the union is “discriminating against me based on a failure to accommodate my religious beliefs and cultural heritage” and “discriminating against me based on national origin, race, cultural heritage, & identity.”

Because MIT officials are involved in enforcing GSU union bosses’ forced-dues demands on the students, Foundation attorneys also sent a letter to MIT President Sally Kornbluth, notifying her of the EEOC charges and warning that the university will face similar charges if it does not promptly remedy the situation.

The graduate students are only subject to the union’s forced-dues demands as a result of a controversial Obama National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling, now being enforced by the Biden Labor Board, that deems graduate students at private universities to be “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act. As a result, the MIT graduate students are subjected to the GSUUE’s monopoly union control.

Foundation Attorneys Have Track Record of Defending Religious Objectors

Because Massachusetts lacks Right to Work protections, union officials in the private sector (which includes private educational institutions like MIT) generally have the power to compel those under their monopoly bargaining power to pay union dues or fees. However, as per Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, religious accommodations to payment of dues or fees must be provided to those with sincere religious objections.

For decades, Foundation staff attorneys have successfully represented religious objectors in cases opposing forced dues. While religious accommodations in these cases have varied, all of them forbid union bosses from demanding the worker pay any more money to the union.

Union Already Conceded Some Illegal Dues Practices

Sussman already dealt a blow against GSU officials in late February, when he forced union officials to settle federal charges he filed at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) concerning the union’s dues demands. In those charges, Sussman asserted his rights under the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision, which prevents union officials from forcing those under their control to pay dues for anything beyond the union’s core bargaining functions.

While the settlement required GSU union officials to send an email to all students under their control stating that they would now follow Beck, Sussman and his fellow students’ current EEOC charges seek to cut off all financial support to the controversial union, as is their right under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“GSU union officials appear blinded by their political agenda and their desire to extract forced dues,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Their idea of ‘representation’ apparently includes forcing Jewish graduate students to pay money to a union the students believe has relentlessly denigrated their religious and cultural identity.

“GSU union bosses’ refusal to grant these students religious accommodations is as illegal as it is unconscionable, and Foundation attorneys will fight for their freedom from this tyrannical union hierarchy,” Mix added.

Posted on Jun 28, 2024 in Newsletter Articles