Employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement typically have to pay dues to the union that represents them. They don’t, however, have to actually join the union.
And those who choose not to belong can have their union dues reduced proportionately, based on how much the union spends to represent employees and the amount it spends on purely political activities. Nonunion employees typically receive a letter at the beginning of the year detailing the percentage breakdown and can elect at that time to pay the lower fee. The reduction is based on previous years’ expenditures.
But what happens if the union passes a dues increase in the middle of the year—perhaps in an election year? Can the union collect the increased amount and then adjust it at the beginning of the next year?
According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, that’s exactly the way to handle the increase.
Recent case: Several nonunion employees filed a class-action lawsuit against the California State Employees Association, alleging that it had raised their union dues in the middle of the election and collected the increase from everyone.
The circuit court said that the union should have sent a midyear letter and allowed nonunion members to opt out of the increase.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It said doing so would needlessly complicate matters. (Knox, et al. v. California State Employees Association, et al., No. 08-16645, 9th Cir., 2010)