Court Rules Union Contracts Mean Membership

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court yesterday delivered a blow to labor opponents by ruling that union contracts can require mandatory membership without clarifying that workers do not have to pay full dues for representation.

The high court ruled unanimously against part-time actress Naomi Marquez, who accused the Screen Actors Guild of intentionally deceiving her with contract language that requires working actors to be a "member of the union in good standing."

More than 80 percent of all union contracts in the United States include similar phrasing, which is pulled directly from a clause in National Labor Relations Act. The clause indicates that workers are not legally required to pay fees for union activity that is unrelated to negotiating work rules with employers, such as political action.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which assisted Ms. Marquez in her case, had hoped that a ruling in her favor would have prompted a tidal wave of challenges to existing union contracts.

The foundation, a nonprofit organization providing free legal help to workers litigating against unions, has filed dozens of lawsuits against the labor groups accusing them of using millions of dollars in dues to promote a political agenda that many workers do not agree with.

"I think this ruling simply shows that the further you go up the court the further you get from the shop floor," said foundation Director Stefan Gleason.

"These contract clauses are literally shoved in workers' faces and they are led to believe that they have to fully join unions to get hired. That is a lie."

SAG attorney Leo Geffner argued successfully before the court that the wording the union used was clear.

That language "is a shorthand description of workers' legal rights," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the court.

Union contracts need not spell out the limits on union-membership requirements, she said, adding, "We conclude it may be perfectly reasonable for a union to use terms of art in a contract."

The justices also agreed with Mr. Geffner that to require further clarification could have forced a majority of unions to renegotiate contracts, creating havoc among workers and their employers. …