Foes of Union Political Activity Score a Victory

Article excerpt

Nonunion workers do not have to go through arbitration to challenge payroll deductions for union activities not related to collective bargaining, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The decision was a victory for opponents of the national labor movement who are fighting on several fronts to stop unions from using compulsory member dues for political action.

The justices, ruling in a dispute between 150 Delta Air Lines pilots and a pilots union, upheld a lower court decision that a nonunion worker cannot be forced to submit to arbitration before taking his case to federal court.

"Unless they agree to the procedure, agency-fee objectors may not be required to exhaust an arbitration remedy before bringing their claims in federal court," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court.

"Employees need not submit fee disputes to arbitration when they have never agreed to do so."

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and John Paul Stevens dissented in the pilots' case against the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents 49,000 pilots at 48 airlines.

The union's contract with Delta includes an agency shop agreement that requires nonmembers to pay the union a service charge to help cover the costs of contract negotiations. However, nonmembers cannot be forced to pay for a union's political activities.

The contract allowed nonmembers to be given a rebate for costs unrelated to the union's collective bargaining over pay and working conditions. Most unions determine for themselves the size of the rebate.

Anyone who disagreed with the union calculation of the rebate could take it up with an independent arbitrator, according to the Delta contract.

But labor opponents have long complained that most arbitrators are more sympathetic to unions. They said yesterday's ruling effectively ends what they believe is a "kangaroo court" system tilted in labor's favor.

"This is just one step down the road to freeing workers from compulsory unionism," said Stefan Gleason, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, which provided free legal aid to the plaintiffs.

Mr. Gleason predicted the ruling would prompt a flood of court challenges to union disclosure of internal finances by nonunion workers. He should know. His organization has filed hundreds of suits against unions on behalf of workers, and will likely file many more as a result of yesterday's ruling.

"We are disappointed with the court's decision because we may now be required to resolve questions about our agency fee calculations in two different proceedings at the same time," said ALPA spokesman John Mazor.

One source close to the ALPA legal team warns that a rush of new cases against unions could clog federal courts and lead judges to be more skeptical of individual claims. …