Forced Union Fees For Grievances Aren’t Remotely Fair

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Right-to-Work Debate Heats Up in Missouri – The Missourian: State 

Federal courts have repeatedly made it plain to union bosses that their special monopoly-bargaining privileges under the National Labor Relations Act will not always be cost-free for Big Labor. But the union hierarchy in Missouri and elsewhere still wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Image: freelanceflashgames.com

As I often point out in blog posts on this web page, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) hands union officials a number of extraordinary special privileges vis-a-vis employees as well as employers.  Most fundamentally, union bosses are authorized by the NLRA to negotiate with businesses employment contracts setting wages and salaries, benefits, and work rules on behalf of workers who aren’t union members as well as those who are.

One aspect of union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining power as established by the NLRA that I haven’t emphasized up to now is the privilege to get grievance resolutions tossed out if they are somehow not in conformity with the union contract.  If a worker who isn’t a union member has a significant problem with the employer about which he decides to file a grievance, he does have the right to hire his own lawyer, rather than accept one selected by the union, to represent him in the case.  But a union nonmember who acts thus takes a major risk.  It may happen that, with independent representation, he reaches a resolution satisfactory to himself and the employer.  But the union nevertheless retains the power to scrap the settlement if it can be read to violate the union contract — even though the union nonmember did not want a union, had no say in selecting the union officials who negotiated the contract, and had no opportunity to vote on the contract!

For that reason, union nonmembers, whether they reside in a non-Right to Work state and are forced to pay so-called “agency” fees as a job condition, or reside in a Right to Work state and are free to hold their jobs without bankrolling a union, often opt if they have a grievance to have a union lawyer represent them.  This is the only way to be sure that any resolution reached won’t be sabotaged by Big Labor after the fact.

Recognizing that the union monopoly over grievances is a major special privilege, federal courts have consistently found that under the NLRA union nonmembers may not be compelled to pay for union counsel if they file a grievance.  It does not make any legal difference if the nonmember is a forced-fee payer or enjoys the Right to Work.

Union bosses who claim the case law on nonmember grievances is “unfair” have a ready solution:  They can join with Right to Work supporters to push for an NLRA amendment limiting union monopoly bargaining, and specifically stating that union officials have no power to challenge nonmember grievance resolutions based on their purported nonconformity with union contracts.

Instead, Big Labor wants to have its cake, and eat it, too.  Union lobbyists insist they should retain the power to overturn grievance resolutions made without union lawyers’ help, and should also be able to charge nonmembers fees for enlisting union lawyers’ help when they file a grievance.

Anyone who understands the facts and has a sound sense of fair play should be able to recognize easily enough that forced union fees for grievances aren’t remotely just.  But all too many politicians in both parties prefer to obfuscate this matter in order to provide themselves with an excuse for supporting compulsory unionism flat-out or appeasing Big Labor.

One recent example is Missouri state Rep. Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair).  In an article about efforts to pass a Missouri Right to Work law published last week (see the link above), Missourian staff writer Josh Mitchell indirectly quotes Hinson as saying it “would be hard” for him “to support” Right to Work legislation not eviscerated by a forced-fee for grievances provision.

Hinson’s comment reflects either a gaping ignorance about the coercive NLRA from which a Right to Work law would protect Missouri employees, or an intent to deceive freedom-loving constituents.  Neither is a particularly admirable trait in an elected official.

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