No. You cannot be required to be a union member in any state. But, depending upon in which state you work, you may be required to pay monies to a union.

Charter school employees may be classified as public- or private-sector employees. For an explanation of this classification for purposes of compulsory unionism, please visit: “Public or Private—Why Does It Matter?

As recognized by the United States Supreme Court in the Foundation-supported cases of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), and Communications Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1998), you cannot be required to be a union member or pay full union dues to keep your job in any state. If you work in a Right to Work state, you cannot be required to join the union as a member or be required to pay anything to the union unless you choose to become a voluntary union member.

However, in a non-Right to Work state, as a condition of employment (keeping your job), you can be required to pay a fee equal to the union’s proven expenses related to collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment. This forced fee cannot lawfully include the union’s expenses for things such as political and ideological activities, lobbying, public relations, illegal strikes, etc. Therefore, if the collective bargaining agreement says you must be a union member or pay full union dues to keep your job, it is unenforceable, as written. As an objecting nonmember of the union, you can only be required to pay the reduced fee amount that represents the union’s bargaining costs. Except in extraordinary cases, the union’s costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment do not equal the amount of full union dues.

In the Foundation-supported case of Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292 (1986), the United States Supreme Court held that a public employer and union that agree to a compulsory unionism requirement must establish procedural safeguards to protect your right as a nonmember to only pay a reduced fee that covers the union’s bargaining costs. These mandatory safeguards include all of the following:

  • notice of independently audited financial information explaining how the agency fee was calculated, and providing an opportunity to object and pay less than full dues;
  • an opportunity to challenge the reduced agency fee amount before an impartial decision-maker;
  • and the right to place the contested agency fee amount in escrow to prevent the union from illegally using your money while a decision on the proper agency fee amount is pending.

If you are a private-sector employee, California Saw and Knife Works, 320 N.L.R.B. 224 (1995), enforced, 133 F.3d 1012 (7th Cir. 1998), established similar procedural safeguards that the union must provide to private-sector employees:

  • the union must inform all employees that they have a right to be nonmembers;the union must inform employees that nonmembers have the right to object to paying for union activities unrelated to the union’s duty as a collective bargaining agent;
  • and that objectors have a right to have their fees reduced to exclude those activities; the union must provide nonmembers with sufficient information to enable them to make an intelligent decision on whether to object;
  • the union must inform nonmembers about its procedures for filing objections;
  • and if nonmembers object, the union must inform them of the percentage of the reduction, how the reduction was calculated, and that the objectors have a right to challenge those figures.

If the union does not provide such procedural safeguards, or you want to challenge the forced fee amount, you may either bring a lawsuit in federal court for the union’s breach of duty of its fair representation or file an unfair labor practice charge at the nearest National Labor Relations Board regional office. Either action must be filed within six months of the offending conduct. If you are interested in pursuing these remedies, contact a Foundation staff attorney Contact a Foundation staff attorney at (800) 336-3600 or by email or click here to fill out a legal aid request form.

As a nonmember, you are still fully covered by all of the provisions in the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the union and your employer. The union is obligated to represent you fairly. You are still entitled to receive all benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement, which the employer must offer to all employees (e.g. wages, seniority, vacations, pensions, health insurance). If the union offers “members-only” benefits, as a nonmember you will most likely not receive those benefits. You also cannot be compelled to pay for members-only benefits for which you are not eligible.

Under the National Labor Relations Act and most state labor laws, as a union nonmember, you can be kept from participating in internal union elections or meetings, voting in collective bargaining ratification elections, or participating in other “internal” union activities. As a nonmember, you are still able to vote in deauthorization and decertification elections. However, the union cannot discipline you for any of your conduct as a nonmember.