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Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) ruled that unions cannot force workers who object to being full union members to pay for lobbying activities.

Under the United States Supreme Court’s 1988 Communications Workers of America v. Beck decision, unions can't use funds collected from nonmember employees covered by union-security arrangements for any activities “not germane to a union’s core representational duties of collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment.” The improper use of nonmembers' fees violates unions' duty of fair representation under this so-called “Beck” framework. Worker Jeanette Geary (“Geary”), who worked at a hospital in Rhode Island, invoked her Beck rights to decline paying fees covering her union’s, United Nurses and Allied Professionals’, political work. Geary had filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB in late 2009 seeking an auditor’s verification that the union wasn’t putting her fees toward political ends.

In 2011, an NLRB administrative law judge (“ALJ”) ruled that the union did not have to give Geary the financial details she sought. The ALJ also held that the union fairly used objectors’ fees for its lobbying work on three bills, but illegally used her fees to fund political work related to four other bills.

In Friday’s ruling, the NLRB ruled that unions can’t use fees paid by Beck objectors for lobbying expenses without running afoul of National Labor Relations Act, specifically, charging Geary for lobbying work related to all seven bills that were pending in the Rhode Island and Vermont legislatures. The Board, while noting that even though union lobbying work can "incidentally affect" collective bargaining and may relate to workers’ terms of employment, lobbying nonetheless is not a part of the unions’ collective bargaining duties. As such, Beck objectors can’t be forced to help fund political lobbying. The NLRB further held that Geary’s union violated the NLRA both by not providing her and other Beck objector's with a verified audit of the financial disclosures it made to them.

 

COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:

National Right to Work Foundation, which represented Geary in this matter, issued the following statement through President Mark Mix: “Jeanette Geary bravely fought against Big Labor’s workplace coercion for years to stand up against a blatant refusal to respect her rights and those of the workers union officials claim to represent. Although this is an overdue victory for Jeanette Geary, ultimately these types of forced union abuses will never be eliminated until Big Labor’s power to force workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment are completely eliminated.”

This ruling makes clear that unions, going forward, must be more vigilant in the accounting and use of all dues received from its constituents, especially those who do not support the union. This case also demonstrates that there are ancillary benefits for the anti-union employers to continue their anti-union message at all times, even after a union has taken over, keeping in mind that unions cannot use objectors money for other purposes that may have an impact on a grander scale. Contact the experts at The Saqui Law Group, a division of Dowling Aaron Incorporated with all questions regarding labor organization and collective bargaining.

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