Sunday, January 10, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Mandatory Member Dues

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week over mandatory union dues (also know as “fair-share fees”) for members and non-members.

The case will impact any association – such as State/Local Bar Associations – having mandatory dues for all professionals within the profession or industry.

[Disclosure: my first job out of college was as a news reporter for The Associated Press. I joined the guild (union) because I knew I would not cross the picket lines if/when we went on strike ... which we did about two months after I joined.]

When I read the USA Today article outlining the various positions about the case of mandatory dues, I looked at it from the perspective of an association professional.

Some key quotes include:
  • The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for on Monday, represents the biggest legal threat to labor unions in decades. Memberships have been in decline since the end of World War II, when 35% of American workers were in unions. By 2014 that number had dropped to just 11%, although public employee unions still represent nearly 36% of government workers.
  • If the justices rule that the free speech rights of non-members entitle them to contribute nothing to the costs of representation — they already can opt out of financing unions' political activities — more workers are likely to become "free riders." That would lead to a drop in membership and revenue that could jeopardize existing collective bargaining agreements. More lawsuits challenging unions' exclusive bargaining rights with public employers would be sure to follow.
  • A brief submitted on behalf of public safety unions says a defeat "risks setting in motion a union 'death spiral' — as membership drops, the union will have to increase dues to cover its expenses, which will create further incentives for additional workers to quit the union."
  • A brief submitted by 21 past presidents of the District of Columbia bar warns that lawsuits against mandatory bar dues would distract the groups from "regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services."
The vast majority of associations don’t live in a “mandatory dues” world. Rather, we have to prove our value each year to each member or potential member. We have to develop time and other resources to recruit and renew members. We have to be sensitive to member concerns and be aware of how our actions impact member rates. We have to carefully manage our funds to be sure we are “in line” with what members are willing to pay.

While there are times association professionals may wish we operated in the mandatory dues environment, I’m guessing most of us are grateful that we do not.

PS.  Here is a summary of today's (Monday, January 11) oral hearings.  SCOTUS signals support for anti-union plaintiffs

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