UC Law Journal


In 1988, the United States Supreme Court decided the landmark case, Communication Workers v. Beck. There, for the first time, the Court held that a union violates the Taft-Hartley Act when, over a dues payer's objection, it expends compulsory union dues on activities not "germane" to collective bargaining. Investing the NLRB with authority to review the expenditure of millions of dollars of union dues monies, Beck promises to inaugurate a new era of governmental involvement in union internal affairs. This article seeks to add unity and coherence to the threshold task of identifying activities a union may compel a dues objector to help finance. Part I unveils the limited utility of the Supreme Court's present rhetoric delineating the boundaries of union activities chargeable to dues objectors, but also reveals that Supreme Court dues objector cases do contain seeds of coherence: Whether these cases nominally entail statutory or constitutional interpretation, they can be explained by a common set of operating principles reflecting demands of free speech and association values in our law, protecting dues objectors, tempered by the competing freedom of association interests of the union majority. Part II demonstrates, by example, that these operating principles offer a workable framework to determine which union activities are chargeable to dues objectors. The author urges that unity and coherence in the NLRB's dues objector cases are essential if the parties, and all interested observers, are to be able intelligently to critique the NLRB's work and avoid the cynicism that is born of the appearance of unbridled decisionmaking.

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