he National Labor Relations Board may be inoperative at present. Yet one of its rulings last month, unless undone, will curtail a longstanding right of employers and individual workers. On December 12, inWKYC-TV Inc., the NLRB ruled 3-1 that an employer must continue to collect dues from union members via automatic “checkoff” even after the collective bargaining agreement expires. The ruling effectively overturns the board’s Bethlehem Steel decision of 1962, which held dues check-offs to be inoperative after contract expiration. It’s another case of President Obama’s appointees to the normally five-member body favoring forced unionism. The ruling isn’t affected by last Friday’s federal appeals court ruling voiding Obama’s recess appointments to the board in January 2012. But even with a welcome revisit, the outcome likely would be the same.
In labor-management relations, the term “dues checkoff” refers to a common method by which unions collect membership dues (or “agency fees,” in the case of non-members). In such cases, a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) contains a provision authorizing the employer to deduct dues payments directly from paychecks and forward them to the union. The enabling statute is Section 302(c)(4) of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Union officials like the arrangement. It ensures an uninterrupted flow of funds into their coffers, thus absolving them of the unpleasant task of hitting up individual workers for the money. Employers accept the arrangement, if grudgingly, as a way keeping labor peace. But what happens when a CBA expires? Should an employer at that point be required to function as a union dues collection agency? Labor officials long have held “yes.” Their obstacle, at least until recently, was 50 years of legal precedent.
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