Court says nonunion members must pay for unionizing activities

By David Krafvets The Associated Press
Wednesday March 27, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court says labor unions may charge nonmembers for recruiting new members at competing companies. 

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court said it is OK to charge employees who decline to join a unionized workplace for the costs associated with collective bargaining. Those workers are so-called “free riders” and obtain the wages and benefits of union members who pay full dues. 

Now the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a Monday ruling that could strengthen the finances of unions, says that unionizing efforts fall within the realm of collective bargaining. 

Unions are “permitted to charge all employees, members and nonmembers alike, the costs involved in organizing, at least when organizing employers within the same competitive market as the bargaining unit employer,” the 11-member appeals court ruled Monday. 

The court reasoned that unionizing fits within the collective bargaining process because organizing competing employees may be crucial to improving wages, benefits and working conditions of a collecting bargaining unit. 

While the Supreme Court said unions could charge nonmembers of a unionized workplace the same amount it charges union members for collective bargaining, the court said nonmembers could not be charged fees for lobbying and other political goals. 

In the case decided Monday, supermarket and meat processing workers who quit the United Food and Commercial Workers Union complained that they were being charged nonmember fees that helped pay for union organizing activities. 

The National Labor Relations Board, a referee of labor-management disputes, ruled in October 1999 they should have to pay, saying that recruiting new members indirectly bolsters a union’s bargaining clout to the benefit of members, as well as nonmembers. 

The ruling generally impacts workers in 28 states. In the other 22 so-called right-to-work states, workers are not required to join a union or pay collective bargaining fees. 

The 22 states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. 

Anti-union groups said they would ask the Supreme Court to overturn the decision. 

The case is United Food and Commercial Workers Union v. Mulder, 99-71317.