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Protesters against Gov Walker's antiunion bill, Wisconsin's capitol rotunda (Image: Joe Rowley via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

Protesters against Gov Walker’s antiunion bill, Wisconsin capitol rotunda (Image: Joe Rowley via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

by Jonathan E Booth

Union security clauses that determine union dues and mandatory membership have become a contentious issue in the United States, especially recently. Depending on state legislation, unions have potential to negotiate either a union or an agency shop security clause in their respective collective bargaining agreement. Under a union shop, individuals are required to join the union and pay dues as a requirement for working in a unionized workplace. An agency shop does not require membership but does require payment of union dues after having been employed because the non-member still benefits from the bargaining agreement. Technically, all unionized workplaces with security clauses in place can only legally be agency shops due to a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that union shop clauses can only be enforced as agency shops (NLRB v. General Motors, 373 U.S. 734). And, dues that employees would have to pay if they determined not to join the union are reduced if they exercise their U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned Beck rights (Communication Workers of America v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 [1988]) – only financially contributing to the union the proportion of union dues that covers representation associated to collective bargaining and contract administration.

It would seem that the above U.S. Supreme Court decisions (though somewhat harmful to union power) would be enough to provide those employees in unionized environments an “out” if they preferred not to join the union yet would still hold them somewhat accountable by having them contribute to the union – especially given they still benefit from the union contract but are not members in a unionized workplace.

Well, this is questionable. Previous to these U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 which allows U.S. State legislatures to pass laws that ban the inclusion of security clauses in collective bargaining agreements. Thus, over the past 60 years or so, states particularly in the South, Rockies, and Great Plains have passed Right to Work (RTW) laws that prohibit unionized workplaces to require employees to join and pay dues to the union – fostering an influx of non-members in unionized workplaces. It is important to note that non-members in unionized environments are covered and protected by the collective bargaining agreement in their respective workplace.

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