RICHMOND -- Private employees working at Washington National Airport do not have to be union members because Virginia's "right-to-work" law takes precedence there, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled.

The high court on Friday unanimously reversed a decision by Arlington Circuit Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick that upheld a union security agreement challenged by an airport worker.

At issue was whether Virginia law, which forbids compulsory union membership, or federal law, which allows it, should apply at the airport, where both governments have jurisdiction.

In June 1987, Eugene Singleton was an airplane fueler at National Airport and was employed by Ogden Allied Aviation Service, a private company.

Ogden's collective-bargaining agreement with the International Association of Machinists was amended on May 1, 1988, with the requirement that all of the company's employees become union members.

Singleton refused and was fired in June 1989 at the union's request. He then joined the union and was rehired, but filed a complaint two months later.

Singleton alleged that Ogden and the union were violating Virginia's right-to-work law by requiring him to join the union. That law prohibits union security agreements that require employees to join as a condition of employment.

Virginia gave to the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over National Airport, located in Arlington County. But Virginia had concurrent police power at National under the Metropolitan Washington Airports Act of 1986, under which an independent airport authority was created to run National and Dulles International airports.

The union argued that the 1986 act specifically preserved the rights of unions representing former federal employees at National Airport and indicates a congressional intent to extend the same right to employees of private companies.

But the court disagreed, noting that since the act specifically excepts the former federal employees, the law's language suggests that other classes of employees were not covered by the law's labor provisions.