Workforce

FLRA ruling changes union withholding rules

US Supreme Court shutterstock photo ID: 376063027 By Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont 

The FLRA decision is linked to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling.

In a blow to federal unions, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled on Feb. 14 that federal workers could stop paying union dues at any time, instead of observing the current practice of letting employees election to withhold dues once a year.

Prior to the FLRA's ruling, federal employees could only elect to cease paying dues at one-year intervals. But a 2-1 majority on a decision the Authority said was based on a previous policy decision and not rooted in actual law.

The decision comes seven months after FLRA, on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management, sought comment on whether the Supreme Court decision in the case of Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 held implications for the current practice in unionized federal workplaces of permitting an annual election for employees to have their dues deducted from their paychecks.

The ruling in Janus eliminated the ability of public sector unions to charge non-members in unionized workplaces collective bargaining fees. The plaintiff in Janus complained that the compulsory dues constituted a violation of First Amendment rights. In the wake of the decision, state and local public sector unions are now obligated represent non-members free of charge during contract negotiations.

Federal employee unions blasted the FLRA decision.

"The Authority's decision is just another step toward the administration’s goal of busting unions and making it even harder for rank-and-file federal employees to speak up, defend their rights, and serve the American people," Everett Kelley, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees said in a statement. "This meritless decision flies in the face of decades of settled and well-reasoned legal precedent in an activist effort to divide federal employees from their unions."

The National Treasury Employees Union announced in a statement that it had informed the D.C. District Court of Appeals that the union intended to challenge the decision, citing a 1981 FLRA case that held that dues could only be revoked once a year.

"NTEU remains committed to upholding federal labor law and that is why we are challenging this decision in court," NTEU President Tony Reardon said.

FLRA member Ernest Dubester dissented, arguing that the connection between the new ruling and Janus decision was tenuous at best.

"The majority's decision here does not contain a scintilla of legal analysis connecting its conclusions to the Supreme Court's decision," he wrote in his dissenting opinion, noting that the decision in Janus focused on "agency fee" requirements for non-members covered by a union agreement and not withholding arrangements made by union members.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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