Charitable donation OK in lieu of union dues

Some employees’ religious beliefs forbid them to belong to labor unions.

Because, like employers, unions may not discriminate on the basis of religion, they must make reasonable accommodations for employees who object to any of their pay going to the union.

Ordinarily, employees who don’t want to join a union at work still have to pay a fee to the union. That fee is usually less than the fee charged full members because a portion usually goes to political action committees.

In one recent case, the employer and union had agreed that those who had religious objections to contributing money to the union could instead make a charitable contribution in an amount equal to the full union dues.

Recent case: Jeffrey Reed got a letter from his pastor attesting that Reed held a bona fide religious belief that prohibited him from sending money to a union.

He asked for a reasonable accommodation—to be allowed to contribute to a charity the same amount that other nonunion members paid the union. When he was forced to pay the full union dues amount to a charity, he sued, alleging he had been denied a reasonable accommodation.

The court disagreed. It said the forced payment wasn’t an adverse employment action and therefore his suit had no basis. It dismissed the case. (Reed v. International Union, No. 07-2505, 6th Cir., 2009)

Final note: The court did say Reed could have argued he was being treated differently due to his religion. But he hadn’t sued for disparate treatment. Because he hadn’t, that issue was left undecided. Another court will have to tackle whether paying more because of a religious objection is discrimination based on religion.