U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Standards for Unions to Charge Nonmembers Service Fees

An employee member of a collective bargaining unit may choose not to be a member of the union that represents the unit. However, under First Amendment jurisprudence, the union may charge the non-member a "service fee" for bargaining services. But the union must carve out the portion of dues spent on activities unrelated to collective bargaining (such as political activity). In Locke v. Karass, the Court addressed whether the union could include the costs associated with litigation directed by the national union. The Court in a unanimous opinion held that such expenses may be charged as part of the service fee when:

(1) the subject matter of the (extra-local) litigation is of a kind that would be
chargeable if the litigation were local, e.g., litigation appropriately related to collective bargaining rather than political activities, and (2) the charge is reciprocal in nature, i.e., the contributing local reasonably expects other locals to contribute similarly to the national’s resources used for costs of similar litigation on behalf of the contributing local if and when it takes place.

Wake up. This is important stuff. The case is Locke v. Karass and the opinion is here.