Illinois Union Rebuked for Union Dues Procedures

In Tavernor v. Illinois Fed’n of Teachers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held Sept. 6 that the University Prof’ls of Illinois Local 4100’s procedure for deducting union dues from the paychecks of nonmember employees imposed excessive burdens on objectors who wanted a refund.

Even though the local, an affiliate of the Ill. Fed’n of Teachers, followed state law procedures for collecting “fair share” union dues from nonmembers, Judge Diane P. Wood wrote that “its system in operation did not provide sufficient protection to the objectors.” The court found that the procedures did not meet the standard by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Hudson v. Chicago Teachers Union Local 1, which held that the procedures used to collect fair share fees must be “carefully tailored to minimize the infringement” on nonmembers’ First Amendment rights.

The plaintiffs, ten Univ. of Ill. at Springfield clerical employees led by Bernadette Tavernor, worked in a bargaining unit represented by Local 4100. The collective bargaining agreement between the union and the university required employees either to join the union or to pay fair share fees to cover the cost of their representation in collective bargaining.

The court explained that under the Ill. Educational Labor Relations Act, a nonmember has six months after the first fair share deduction from his or her paycheck to object to the fee. Objections must be renewed annually. If a nonmember objects to the amount of the fair share fee, the full fee continues to be deducted and is placed in an interest-bearing escrow account. The Ill. Education Labor Relations Board then consolidates all fair share fee objections for a single bargaining unit and conducts an administrative hearing to determine the correct fair share fee.

Local 4100 instructed the university to deduct an amount equivalent to 100 percent of union dues from the paychecks of nonmembers as their fair share fee payment. But, the court pointed out, for the 1997-98 school year, the fair share fee actually was 84.46 percent, and for the 1998-99 school year was 86.78 percent. Nonetheless, 100 percent of the dues amount was deducted, and employees were told how to file objections with the IELRB. After objections were filed, the full amount of deducted fees was placed in an escrow account. If nonmembers failed to object to the amount, then the union received the full amount deducted.

The plaintiffs sued, claiming that the union’s fair share fee collection procedure violated the First Amendment because it did not include procedural safeguards outlined in Hudson. Under Hudson, the court explained, unions collecting fair share fees must provide an adequate explanation for the basis of the fee, give nonmembers a prompt opportunity to challenge the amount of the fee before an impartial decisionmaker, and place reasonably disputed funds in an escrow account while such challenges are pending.

The plaintiffs argued that the union should be required to reduce fair share fees to only those costs related to collective bargaining upon receipt of the nonmembers’ objections. The plaintiffs asked the court for an injunction against the collection of fair share fees and a refund with interest of all funds they had paid that were not related to collective bargaining. [BNA 9/13/00]