The U.S. Supreme Court for nearly 30 years consistently has held that workers who pay dues or fees to a union have a right to withhold the portion of their payment going toward activities unrelated to collective bargaining. This principle, as the Court made clear in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, applies to public-sector as well as private-sector employees. City officials of Lexington, Ky. see their instance as an exception. They’re joining forces with a local firefighters’ union to make sure nonunion fee payers aren’t eligible for a refund.
On June 22, seven nonunion Lexington firefighters filed a civil-rights suit in U.S. District Court alleging that International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 526 illegally confiscated fees from their paychecks without due process. The suit also names Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac and other City officials for signing and enforcing the agreement with the union. The dissenting workers are asking the court to enjoin the local from seizing forced dues from any nonunion employee until the union provides required financial disclosure information. They’re also requesting restitution for dues taken since June 2005, the month the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect. The per-employee figure is $24.27 a month. Finally, the employees are challenging an indemnification clause in the contract stating that the union agrees to bear any expense or liability faced by the City of Lexington.
By law, union officials must provide an independent audited disclosure of all union expenses. The purpose is to guard against involuntary funding of union activities. At present, Lexington has some 500 firefighters, more than 90 percent of whom are union members. Union officials claim they’re operating fully within the law. “We follow all of the federal and state rules,” said Local 526 President Mark Blankenship, adding that the union has an internal appeals process to handle non-member complaints, including calculation of the fair-share fee. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is providing free assistance to the firefighters, thinks the union is out of line. “IAFF union officials are trampling the basic constitutional rights of the very firefighters whose interests they claim to represent,” said Foundation Vice President Stefan Gleason. “These cases demonstrate the need for Right to Work protections in Kentucky, Ohio and other forced-unionism states that would make union membership and dues payment strictly voluntary.” (Lexington Herald-Leader, 6/23/06; other sources).