- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

The following is excerpted from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Communications Workers of America vs. Beck (1988). Citations are omitted.

In June 1976, respondents, 20 employees who chose not to become union members, initiated this suit challenging [the Communications Workers of America's] use of their agency fees for purposes other than collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment (hereinafter "collective bargaining" or "representational" activities). Specifically, respondents alleged that the union's expenditure of their fees on activities such as organizing the employees of other employers, lobbying for labor legislation, and participating in social, charitable, and political events violated petitioners' duty of fair representation, 8(a)(3) of the [National Labor Relations Act], the First Amendment, and various common law fiduciary duties… .
Added as part of the 1947 Labor Management Relations Act, or Taft-Hartley Act, 8(a)(3) makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer "by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment … to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization." The section contains two provisos without which all union security clauses would fall within this otherwise broad condemnation: the first states that nothing in the Act "preclude[s] an employer from making an agreement with a labor organization … to require as a condition of employment membership therein" 30 days after the employee attains employment; the second, limiting the first, provides:
"[N]o employer shall justify any discrimination against an employee for nonmembership in a labor organization (A) if he has reasonable grounds for believing that such membership was not available to the employee on the same terms and conditions generally applicable to other members, or (B) if he has reasonable grounds for believing that membership was denied or terminated for reasons other than the failure … to tender the periodic dues and the initiation fees uniformly required as a condition of acquiring or retaining membership."
Taken as a whole, 8(a)(3) permits an employer and a union to enter into an agreement requiring all employees to become union members as a condition of continued employment, but the "membership" that may be so required has been "whittled down to its financial core." The statutory question presented in this case, then, is whether this "financial core" includes the obligation to support union activities beyond those germane to collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment. We think it does not… .
Congress authorized compulsory unionism only to the extent necessary to ensure those who enjoy union-negotiated benefits contribute to their cost. Thus, in amending the [Railway Labor Act] in 1951, Congress expressly modeled 2, Eleventh on 8(a)(3), which it had added to the NLRA only four years earlier, and repeatedly emphasized that it was extending "to railroad labor the same rights and privileges of the union shop that are contained in the Taft-Hartley Act." …
In Street we concluded "that 2, Eleventh contemplated compulsory unionism to force employees to share the costs of negotiating and administering collective agreements, and the costs of the adjustment and settlement of disputes," but that Congress did not intend "to provide the unions with a means for forcing employees, over their objection, to support political causes which they oppose." …
It simply does not follow from [the legislative history] that Congress left unions free to exact dues equivalents from nonmembers in any amount they please, no matter how unrelated those fees may be to collective bargaining activities. On the contrary, the complete lack of congressional concern for the rights of nonmembers in the debate surrounding the House "bill of rights" is perfectly consistent with the view that Congress understood 8(a)(3) to afford nonmembers adequate protection by authorizing the collection of only those fees necessary to finance collective bargaining activities: because the amount of such fees would be fixed by their underlying purpose defraying the costs of collective bargaining Congress would have every reason to believe that the lack of any limitations on union dues was entirely irrelevant so far as rights of nonmembers were concerned.



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