Notice to Musicians Employed under US Collective Bargaining Agreements

Article excerpt

Sections 8(a)(3) and 8(b)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act permit unions in nonright-to-work states to enter into collective bargaining agreements with employers that require employees, as a condition of employment, either to join the union (and thereby enjoy the full rights and benefits of membership) or to pay fees to the union (and thereby satisfy a financial obligation to the union without enjoying the full rights and benefits of membership). That requirement serves the legitimate purpose of ensuring that each employee who benefits from union representation pays a fair share of the cost of that representation. The goal of such "union security provisions" is to eliminate "free riders" who benefit from the union contract without contributing to the union's cost of negotiating, administering, and enforcing that contract.

Where a collective bargaining agreement requires an employee to either join the union or to pay fees to the union, the fees charged to nonmembers are generally identical to the amount of union dues and initiation fees charged to union members. In a 1988 court case, Communications Workers of America v. Beck, the United States Supreme Court held that a nonmember has the right to object to paying any portion of the fee which will be expended on activities unrelated to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. All nonmember fee payers are required to pay the portion of the fee which will support expenditures germane to the collective bargaining process, including, but not limited to negotiations, contract aclrninistration, grievance adjustment, meetings with employer and union representatives, legislative matters affecting the working conditions of employees in various industries in which musicians function, and internal union administration and litigation related to the above activities. Nonmember fee payers who object to doing so have the right not to pay the portion of the fee which will be expended on other, "non-chargeable" activities, including expenditures made for political purposes, for general community services, or for members-only benefits. In order to reduce the fee they pay to the union, objectors must follow the procedure described below.

The so-called Beck rights described above apply only to nonmembers-individuals who have resigned from the union or who have never joined. Under federal labor law, every person has the right to join and support a labor union, to refuse to join a labor union, and to resign from union membership at any time. However, only union members have the following valuable rights, among others: the right to attend local union meetings and speak out at such meetings on any and all issues affecting the local, the AFM, and its members; the right to participate in the formulation of union policy; the right to influence the nature of the local's activities and the direction of its future; the right to nominate and vote for candidates for local office and to run for office; the right to participate in the negotiation process for new or successor collective bargaining agreements; the right to participate in contract ratification votes and strike votes; the right to nominate and vote for delegates to the AFM Convention; and the right to participate in a wide variety of benefit plans offered to union members, including the Union Privilege benefits programs, the AFM Symphony-Opera Orchestra Strike Fund, the AFM Theater Defense Fund, and the ROPA Emergency Relief Fund. …