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Can Non-Members Be Forced to Pay Labor Union Dues or Agency Fees?

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2019 | Civil Litigation |

New York City employment law attorney labor unions

If you are a government employee covered by a union collective-bargaining agreement, such as a police officer or school teacher, you cannot be forced by law to join a union and pay union dues. Until recently, however, non-members could be required by New York state law, and by similar laws in 21 other states, to pay a significant percentage of the annual union dues in the form of “agency fees.” The reasoning was that non-members benefited from the union’s collective bargaining efforts and should contribute toward those costs.

The legality of mandatory agency fees was challenged in federal court in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. Mark Janus is an employee of the state of Illinois who chose not to join the AFSCME because he opposes many of the union’s political positions. Nonetheless, he had been required to pay $535 per year to the union as an agency fee, which is about 78 percent of the annual dues paid by union members.

Agency Fees Deprive Employees of the Right to Free Speech

In its June 2018 decision on the Janus case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to require non-union members to pay agency fees. The Court held that the union’s collective bargaining activities and political speech are inextricably linked. Thus, agency fees violate an individual’s First Amendment right to free speech by “compelling them to subsidize [the union’s] private speech on matters of substantial public concern” including “education, child welfare, healthcare, and minority rights.”

It is worth noting here that the Constitution does not guarantee employees the right to free speech in all matters, only in matters of substantial public concern. For example, your First Amendment rights are not violated if your employer disciplines you for expressing the opinion that your manager is an incompetent idiot. That opinion is not a matter of “substantial public concern.” However, if you express the opinion that your city government is not doing enough to protect women’s rights, that may be considered “protected speech” for which you cannot be disciplined. You should consult a knowledgeable employment litigation attorney for advice on any workplace freedom-of-speech questions.

Impact of Janus vs. AFSCME on New York Employees

Government employees throughout the state of New York will be significantly impacted by the Supreme Court decision. New York is one of the most unionized states in the country, with over 70 percent of state and local government employees covered by a union contract. These workers pay over $860 million in union dues and fees each year.

It has been estimated that 200,000 government employees in New York have elected not to join their union. The loss of their agency fees is expected to cost New York unions approximately $112 million on an annual basis. This could impact union funding for member benefits such as educational programs and legal support for employees facing disciplinary action.

In anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case, the New York legislature amended its union-related statutes in April 2018. Under the amended laws, public employee unions are allowed to deny certain services to non-members, including any legal, financial, or job-related services beyond those promised to all workers in the collective bargaining agreement. Unions may also now define a specific time period each year during which workers must opt in or opt out of union membership.

Manhattan Civil Service Employment Defense Lawyer

If your job is covered by a union contract, you have certain rights and benefits under that contract. Some of those benefits may be granted exclusively to union members, while other benefits will apply to all workers in the jobs covered by the union contract, including employees who elect not to join the union. If you are facing disciplinary charges or have other employment-related legal concerns, consult an experienced New York City civil service employment defense attorney who can explain and defend your rights under your union contract. Call JOEY JACKSON LAW, PLLC at 833-JOEYJACKSON or 833-563-9522.