Q. I run a small warehouse facility where the employees are represented by a union. The labor contract requires all employees to pay union dues or an equivalent fee. The union has contacted me and indicated that one of my laid-off employees is not in good standing for failing to pay union dues, and has requested that the employee be discharged. Even though he is laid off, the union still requires him to pay union dues. This is a good employee, and I do not want to terminate him. Am I required to do so?
A. The law permits employers and unions to agree to impose, as a condition of employment, the requirement that all employees subject to the applicable labor contract pay union dues or a service fee roughly equivalent to union dues. (I have never heard of a union requiring that union dues be paid while the employee is laid off.)
Your labor contract typically will spell out the consequences of an employee’s failure to pay union dues—usually discharge. Most collective bargaining agreements require you, as the employer, to deduct the dues automatically from the employee’s wages, assuming the employee has signed a document authorizing such deductions.
Ideally your labor contract also requires the union to indemnify and hold the employer harmless for any and all consequences of discharging an employee for this reason. If you do not have such a provision, you should inform the union that you want an indemnification agreement before you will terminate any employee at its insistence.
If you refuse to terminate the employee, the union can take the case to arbitration. Arbitrators and the courts routinely will uphold the discharge of an employee for failure to pay union dues if that is the consequence set forth in the applicable contract. (This assumes the union has followed any internal procedures it may have prior to requesting an employee’s termination.)
You may want to call the employee yourself to make sure he fully understands the consequences of his conduct, and that he consider appealing the obligation to pay dues within the union rather than putting his job in jeopardy. However, assuming you do have the indemnification agreement referenced above, you can terminate the employee with little or no risk to the company. However, you also could decide that you want an arbitrator to order the termination and place the onus on the union.