A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week on a union dues case likely will have little impact on labor-management relationships in the federal workplace because the issue was not directly relevant to federal unions.
The case involved a union that does have bargaining units in the federal government, AFSCME, but the issue involved a state government employee who objected to being compelled to pay a fee to the union where he works even though he did not choose to become a dues-paying member–a so-called “agency shop” arrangement. The high court ruled in his favor on grounds that the requirement violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
Income from dues is vital to unions and thus limiting that income could have substantial impacts on those operating under such arrangements. In contrast, federal employees covered by a union bargaining unit are free to join or not join the union as dues-paying members, and neither management nor the union is allowed to coerce that decision. Unions further may not charge a fee to non-members such as the one at issue in the court case, even though they are obligated to represent all members of the unit regardless of dues-paying status.
Federal unions view “official time”–on-the-clock time in which federal employees who hold union roles may perform certain union-related duties–as the tradeoff for that obligation–in essence, a substitute for compulsory fees to defray the costs of representing non-members.
The recent executive orders from President Trump telling agencies to take certain bargaining positions regarding official time could have a similarly limiting impact on unions, however. Agencies are to seek to limit the total to one hour per unit employee per year; generally disallow its use for grievance proceedings; limit the amount any employee can use to 25 percent of working hours; and make its use subject to management approval. Those orders are under court challenge, however, and implementing will take time even if they are not blocked.