(The Center Square) – Don Zueger, a technician at Boeing’s Auburn, Washington plant, is suing the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union claiming it violated his right to refrain from paying for unwanted union activities.
Zueger, who resigned from the union in February, is suing based on the Supreme Court’s 1988 Communications Workers of America v. Beck decision in which the justices held unions are authorized to collect from non-members only those fees and dues necessary for the collective bargaining process.
The rights identified by the court in CWA v. Beck have since come to be known as “Beck rights.”
“The Union is violating the duty of fair representation by requiring Zueger to fund a portion of its non-chargeable political, ideological, and non-representational activities at the District and Local Lodge level,” states the lawsuit, filed on May 19 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
The lawsuit seeks to force the union to return all money demanded in violation of the Beck decision and to reduce Zueger’s future union payments in accordance with Beck.
The Center Square reached out to the union for comment on the lawsuit but received no response.
“Unions have been granted the power to impose their so-called ‘representation,’ including one-size-fits-all union contracts on nonmember workers,” Patrick Semmens, vice president of the Springfield, Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation that is providing Zueger free legal aid, explained via email. “They then use this power to attempt to impose full dues on all workers, but they cannot legally require either formal union membership or payment of dues beyond what is legally allowed by the Supreme Court in Beck.”
Semmens indicated this lawsuit is not part of a plan get another Supreme Court decision – Janus v. AFSCME in 2018 – to be read more broadly and not just limited to government unions. The Janus decision held it was unconstitutional to force public sector employees to subsidize unions.
“This case is based on the 1988 Beck decision,” he said. “While we believe no worker should be forced to pay any dues or fees to a union to get or keep a job (as the Supreme Court found for public sector employees in Janus), what the union is doing in this case violates precedent that was established long before Janus.”
NRTW played an instrumental role in the Beck decision, representing Harry Beck for 12 years in challenging the CWU’s use of his compulsory dues for political purposes all the way to the Supreme Court.
Complicating matters is the fact Washington is not a right-to-work state, so contracts negotiated between private-sector employers and unions can require workers pay a fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining.
A right-to-work state is a state that has enacted legislation that guarantees no individual can be forced as a condition of employment to join or pay dues or fees to a labor union.
The merits of the lawsuit are strong, according to Semmens.
“What the IAM is doing here is a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s Beck precedent, and we believe if the court properly applies existing law the union will lose,” he said.