Free People To Back Only The Candidates They Support

“Will you commit to ensuring that all workers know, via workplace notification, that they are entitled to a refund of whatever portion of their union dues are not used for collective bargaining purposes?”

Background

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Those are the words of the man who wrote our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

Many labor unions devote large portions of their treasuries to political purposes – most often, in support of liberal candidates for office. They spend funds collected in the form of dues (from members of the union) and agency fees (from workers who are not members of the union, but who are covered by the union contract).

But not all union members support the candidates endorsed and supported by the union. In fact, in many campaigns, more union members actually vote for the candidate opposed by their union than vote for the candidate supported by the union.

In 1988, the Supreme Court heard a case brought by Harry Beck, an employee of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. Beck, a member of and organizer for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), had protested the use of his union dues being used to fund political activities in support of candidates he opposed. He left the union and began paying an agency fee instead, and then, with 19 fellow CWA workers, sued the CWA when the union refused to respond to his request for an accounting of how his agency fees had been spent.

It took 12 years for the case to make its way to the Supreme Court. In 1988, in the landmark Communications Workers of America v. Beck decision, the Court ruled that under federal law, the CWA was not justified in collecting agency fees in excess of the amount necessary to cover the costs of collective bargaining. Beck and his co-plaintiffs were entitled to a refund of those portions of their agency fees that had been used for purposes other than collective bargaining.

In the larger context, the Beck decision restricts unions from collecting dues to be used for political purposes if a union member chooses to opt out. In that case, the collected dues (or agency fee) can only be used to pay collective bargaining purposes.

The result of the Beck decision in practice varies from union to union, and from state to state. If you live in a Right To Work state, you may choose to resign your membership and leave the union, or you may choose to stay a member of the union but pay just your share of the costs related to collective bargaining; if you live in a forced union state, you can still choose not to pay for the non-collective bargaining activities undertaken by the union (including political activities).

Beginning with President George H.W. Bush, notification of Beck rights was required by all employers. President Bill Clinton rescinded that requirement. President George W. Bush reinstated the notification requirement. President Barack Obama rescinded the notification requirement.

A new President should enforce this Supreme Court decision, and ensure that both union and agency fee employees understand they are entitled to a refund of that portion of their dues or agency fees in excess of those needed for collective bargaining purposes by requiring all employers to post notification of Beck rights appropriately. 

For More Information

FINDLAW: CWA v. BECK

UNION FACTS: Understanding Beck Rights

Read More

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