Unlike the approximately 125,000 members of the Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks who work for U.S. railroads and airlines, a member who is his union's employe has a well-paying job but little else to show for his dues.
He has no one to represent him in collective bargaining or to process his grievances. He has no contract. When national collective bargaining agreement increased the monthly pay of railway clerks by $125, he got a cost-of-living raise of about $40.
Fred J. Kroll, the union's international vice president, scorns such comparisons, partly on the ground that BRAC's employes have superior fringe benefits, which cost, he said, $400 to $500 a month and include a right to convert unused sick leave into cash. Moreover, he said, wages are generous. The lowest-paid employes earn $313.85 to $376.66 a week excluding 3 percent "longevity" increases every five years.
The reason for the distinction between BRAC members and BRAC employe-members is clear enough: the union would be hard put to engage in arms-length negotiations with itself. Indeed, when a BRAC lodge (local) was formed by headquarters employes several years ago, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that it couldn't be their bargaining agent against the parent Grand Lodge.
Experts differ on whether it's an unfair labor practice for an employer/union to make membership a condition of employment.
One former NLRB attorney, now the counsel of an international union, told a reporter after being told his name wouldn't be used, "It's illegal. It's blatantly improper for any employer to recieve dues from employes. Employers can't charge employes for working."
This opinion was challenged by former NLRB general counsel John S. Irving. He cited a 1967 decision in which the board held that a local of the Retail Store Employes Union could require office clerical employes and field representatives to become dues-paying members and also require the office workers to attend meetings.
It is "clearly proper" for a union "to be concerned about not hiring employes who do not understand or agree with [its] general goals," the board said.
At the same time, it emphasized, "a union-employer must state positively" that it requires membvership "only as a necessary part of the employee's job," that it doesn't propose to represent the employee-members, that the employe-members are free to join another union, and that the union-employer would bargain with the other union if it were to be designated as the bargaining agent.
Among the nine interview BRAC clerical employes, opinion about the membership requirement split three ways. Some favored it, some opposed it, but most regared it as a small price to pay for high wages and large benefits.