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Employer Not Required to Inform Employees of Union Membership Options

August 13, 1999
Related Topics: Labor Relations, Featured Article
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Issue: Your company and its union are bound by a collective bargaining agreement containing a union-security clause requiring all employees to become and remain "members of the Local union in good standing as a condition of employment." Neither you nor the union informed the employees of their option to choose "full membership," with all attendant obligations, including the payment of dues, fees, and assessments for nonrepresentational purposes, or "limited membership," requiring only the payment of dues and initiation fees for representational purposes. Subsequently, one of your employees filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that your company unlawfully maintained the union-security clause without telling him of these membership rights.

Has your company unlawfully interfered with the organizational rights of its employees by maintaining a union-security agreement requiring employees to be "members in good standing" in the union without notifying them of their union membership options and corresponding obligations?

Answer: No. The phrase "members in good standing" in a union-security clause is lawful but ambiguous and can mean either "full membership" or "limited membership." As the exclusive bargaining representative and agent of the employees, the union owes the employees a duty of fair representation, and the union is thus required to inform them of their membership rights and obligations. These rights include the option to refrain from supporting union activities other than those germane to collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment. An employer and a union are free to enter into a union-security clause requiring union membership as a condition of continued employment only if this membership requirement does not exceed the "financial core." The financial core consists only of the payment of dues and initiation fees necessary to perform the duties of an exclusive representative of employees in dealing with the company on labor-management issues.

Employer’s obligations:
As employer, your company does not owe its employees a "duty of fair representation" and therefore has no affirmative responsibility to inform the employees of their rights and obligations regarding union membership. In addition, an employer is under no obligation to either inform an employee how the phrase "members in good standing" can be interpreted or to advise an employee that he or she may opt for limited union membership.

Cite: Yellow Freight System of Indiana, (1999) 327 NLRB No 175, 1999-00 CCH NLRB 15,191.

Source: CCH Incorporated is a leading provider of information and software for human resources, legal, accounting, health care and small business professionals. CCH offers human resource management, payroll, employment, benefits, and worker safety products and publications in print, CD, online and via the Internet. For more information and other updates on the latest HR news, check our Web site at http://hr.cch.com.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.

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