(CN) – A Brooklyn College professor won reinstatement of his challenge to union dues imposed on those who chose not to join the union. Unions can’t charge non-members for political activity that isn’t “germane” to the union’s collective-bargaining efforts, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
Federal labor law allows states to authorize “agency shop” arrangements between unions and government employers, where the union acts as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for government employees.
Brooklyn College is part of the City University of New York, which is considered an “agency shop.” As such, the Professional Staff Congress – the teachers’ union – can charge non-union members for its collective bargaining efforts on their behalf.
Tenured geology professor David Seidemann argued that this fee covered political aims unrelated to collective bargaining, forcing him to support ideological activity in violation of his First Amendment rights.
Specifically, he claimed the union improperly charged him for the costs of its campaign to land a new contract with CUNY, the lobbying efforts of a state union affiliate, the costs of sending delegates to that affiliate’s conventions, the salaries of union employees, and a national affiliate’s media expenses.
He also challenged the union’s process for contesting these charges.
The district court upheld the union’s right to charge the plaintiff for all but a few public relations expenses. It also required Seidemann to arbitrate any future challenges before filing suit.
The Manhattan-based federal appeals court disagreed and revived the case.
It acknowledged that the union can charge non-members for activities related to collective bargaining, but said the union “produced no evidence” explaining why the professor should pay for the challenged activities.
The 2nd Circuit vacated the lower court’s dismissal of all claims and reversed the arbitration requirement.
“A dissenter has the right, but not the obligation, to pursue arbitration under the union’s internal procedures before availing himself of the courts,” Judge Cabranes wrote.