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Religion, Beliefs, Work Unions and Union Dues



Do religious objectors have to join, belong to, and/or financially support a union if doing conflicts with one’s religious beliefs?

Answer: It depends.

In Right to Work states, you don’t have join a union and don’t have to financially support unions.

In Non-Right to Work states (forced unionism), sincere religious objectors can potentially redirect the entire union fee from the union to a non-labor / nonunion / nonreligious charity.
Title VII protects religious (not political or philosophical) beliefs, that is, beliefs based, in most cases, upon one’s duties to God.  The more "traditional" and "strongly held" the belief, the more likely such will be protected. A mere religious preference may not be protected.  A Christian, for example, would cite specific Bible verses that support his or her belief.

But the union and/or employer can claim the "undue hardship" defense. The undue hardship defense releases the union and employer from having to accommodate one’s religious beliefs if the accommodation would create an "undue hardship" for them. The Supreme Court held that "undue hardship" means a minimal cost (or more). [TWA v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977)]. 

Therefore, it is normally important that the employee seek a compromise solution (i.e., a compromise that will not compromise his or her conscience) and that will also create the very least amount of inconvenience or cost to the employer or the union.   

Note: Federal law, under Title VII, protects most but not all employees from religious discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq (covering: federal, state, local and municipal employees; employees of private employers with 15 or more employees; and employees who are members of a union with 15 or more members).


May public (state and local government) employees be forced to join a union?

Answer: No.

In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education [431 U.S. 209 (1977)], the U.S. Supreme Court held that public employees cannot be required to join a union. [See also 5 U.S.C. 7102 (federal employees generally); 39 U.S.C. 1209(c) (postal employees).]

Must a public (state or local governmental) employee must pay for the union’s collective bargaining activities?

If the employee is a government employee in a Right to Work state, the employee cannot be required to pay any union fees unless the employee voluntarily joins the union.

In a Non-Right to Work state, a public-sector union can bill nonmembers for chargeable expenses.

Why?  Because the employee benefits from such collective bargaining activities [wages, vacations, pensions, health insurance], the non-joining employee must pay for same.
Note: Unions may not discipline nonmember public employees.

May a public employee be required to support the political or ideological activities of the union?

Answer: No. They may not require them to fund its political or ideological projects.

Public employees who do not want to support the political activities can “opt out” of such support.  They must be given an accounting as to what percentage of the dues are used for collective bargaining and what percentage are used for political activities.

In 2012, in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Knox v. SEIU the court held in this California public employee case, that, in regard to special assessments for political campaigns, non-members (non-union public employees) must “opt in” and affirmative choose to give support.  In other words, they cannot be automatically assessed and then have to opt out.

“Requiring objecting nonmembers to opt out of paying the nonchargeable portion of union dues?rather than exempting them unless they opt in?represents a remarkable boon for unions, creating a risk that the fees nonmembers pay will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree.”

This is major change in the law and may have application beyond special assessments.  Further, some claim that it may radically decrease the funds available for public employee unions to participate in the political process.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Knox case seeks to vindicate First Amendment principles of free speech and association, but some argue that the decision was based on an anti-labor bias.


Can a private sector employee be required to be a union member and/or pay union dues to a union?

Regarding private employers, if you work primarily in a Right to Work state, you don’t have to join a union.  Further, you don’t have to pay dues or an agency fee to the union. 

Note: On certain federal property, these rules do not apply.

In Non-Right to Work states, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) [29 U.S.C. 151–169], you cannot be required to be a member of a union or pay union dues.

Note: Airline and railroad industries (and certain others) are not covered by the NLRA.  They are covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). 45 U.S.C. 151-188.

Exception: If the employer-union collective bargaining agreement requires all employees to either join the union or pay union fees, then you can be required to either be a member of a union or, alternatively, pay union dues.

Limits of Dues: But, regarding union dues the most you can be required pay is a fee (typically) called an "agency fee.").  See Communication Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988).  An agency fee equals the union’s provable costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment with a particular employer.  Almost always, agency fees equal less than union dues.

For greater depth of coverage of these laws, see articles found at www.nrtw.org.

See related articles:  Intra-Church Disputes and the Courts and Christians and Lawsuits


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