April 24, 2020 Top Story

Prevailing Employee Not Entitled to Recoup Union Dues

Union not liable for damages in reliance on "good faith" defense

By Anthony R. McClure

An employee who protested the deduction of “fair-share” union fees from his paycheck is not entitled to damages in recovery for the amount he paid, despite the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision that requiring such fees violates the First Amendment. Because the fees were paid before that decision, the union successfully invoked a “good faith” defense that it had reasonably relied on established law, according to a federal circuit court.

Courts ruled that nonmembers cannot recoup dues paid before the recent decision as the money was taken and used in "good faith."

Courts ruled that nonmembers cannot recoup dues paid before the recent decision as the money was taken and used in "good faith."

CurvaBezier | iStockphoto by Getty Images

Prior Precedent

In the 1977 decision of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court “authorized state-government entities and unions to enter into agreements under which the unions could receive fair-share fees from nonmembers to cover the costs incurred when the union negotiated or acted on their behalf over terms of employment,” in the circuit court’s words. Those same fees, however, “could not support any of the union’s political or ideological activities,” in recognition of nonmembers’ First Amendment rights. For the next 41 years, the decision in Abood stood as binding precedent.

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