In United Nurses and Allied Professionals (Kent Hospital) and Jeanette Geary, 359 NLRB No. 42 (2012), (pdf) a recent decision benefiting unions, the National Labor Relations Board held that union lobbying expenses may be chargeable to individuals who object to being forced to pay union dues under Communications Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988) (Beck objectors). First, some background. Union security clauses are provisions in collective bargaining agreements requiring employees to join the union and pay dues as a condition of employment. These types of clauses are only permissible in non-right to work states. In Beck, the Supreme Court held that those who object to paying the required dues may only be charged for the percentage of dues used for purposes of collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment.
Despite this clear and narrow directive from the Supreme Court, the Board has now created a broad exception that will likely swallow the rule. In Kent Hospital, the Board held that lobbying expenses may be charged to Beck objectors if those lobbying expenses are germane to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. Precisely what lobbying expenses may be chargeable was left unanswered by the Board, although it did provide some examples. Specifically, the Board opined that lobbying expenses associated with minimum wage legislation, professional licensing, and state supplements to the WARN act are chargeable to Beck objectors. Conversely, the Board determined that lobbying expenses related to general economic stimulus or “broad social or environmental policies” are not chargeable.
The Board invited briefing on how it should apply its newly-articulated standard going forward. After all the briefing is done, it is likely that the Board will accept unions’ arguments that every lobbying function is meant to improve the lives of its members and, therefore, is related to collective bargaining, and that the Board will therefore determine that the vast majority of lobbying expenses may be charged to Beck objectors.