Nonunion workers who must pay union dues as a condition of their employment are entitled to strike insurance payments when they stay off the job during strikes, even if they refuse to support strike activities, a U.S. judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, following other court decisions that have limited union powers, said the First Amendment's protections of free speech and association prohibit unions from forcing nonmembers to carry picket signs in exchange for strike benefits.
But Green appeared to go beyond the earlier cases by also ruling that those constitutional protections must extend to strike duties other than picketing, such as working in a "strike kitchen," serving on committees or handing out strike benefit checks.
"A nonmember who is not willing to march in a picket line and proclaim a message that is not his has a right not to be forced to toil beside those who support the view embodied in that message and give their time and effort for its publication," Green wrote in an 11-page decision released yesterday. The case involved a Michigan auto plant worker who sued the United Auto Workers union.
National Right to Work Foundation lawyer David T. Bryant, who represented the Michigan worker, said the case was a "big victory for individual rights." Bryant said Green's decision showed "that the law permits only so much (for nonunion members) and beyond that (they) can't be compelled to go."
UAW general counsel John Fillion said yesterday he expects Green's decision will have limited practical impact on the union's activities. Fillion said the UAW traditionally has been able to bargain with employes on a wide range of strike participation well beyond the picket line, from Bible reading to community service.
Other lawyers however thought that Green's decision might undercut union efforts to secure members. Donald P. Rothschild, a labor law professor at George Washington University, said Green's decision appeared to allow nonmembers to gain union benefits, both through collective bargaining and while on strike, without any effort on the part of the employe.
"If you're going to get all the benefits of a union without joining it, why join it?" Rothschild asked.
Washington lawyer Joseph Rauh Jr., who represented the union in the court case here, said the extent of First Amendment protections beyond actual picketing was a "close question" which he expected would be appealed to higher courts.
Green noted in her written opinion that it might "appear unfair" to grant strike benefits to persons who do nothing to support a strike. But, Green wrote, for nonmembers, who had no say in calling for a strike, such benefits are like unemployment compensation for a laid-off employe who had no control over his loss of a job.
Green's decision involved a so-called "agency shop" agreement between the UAW and management at a Michigan auto parts plant. That agreement said that all nonunion employes in the bargaining unit represented by the UAW local must pay a fee that would be equivalent to membership dues. Thirty percent of the fees and membership dues are placed in a UAW strike insurance fund.
Thirty states allow such agency shop agreements.
Raymond T. Kolinske, a machine operator who brought the lawsuit, paid the fee but in 1978 was denied strike benefits on the grounds that he had not performed any strike related duties, even though he honored a picket line.
"The union may not constitutionally demand of nonmembers such contributions of valuable services as a condition of payment of strike benefits--benefits for which they have already paid by way of their fees," the judge wrote.
She ordered the UAW to pay Kolinske $130 in strike benefits.