NLRB Declines to Expand Beck Obligations; Figures Not Required in Initial Union Notices

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Sept. 12 — Declining to modify its “established rule” on the rights of union dues objectors, the National Labor Relations Board 3-2 held Sept. 10 a United Food and Commercial Workers local fulfilled its statutory duty by informing a new employee she could satisfy a union-security clause without becoming a union member, although the union did not specify the fees and expenses she would be responsible to pay.

Affirming dismissal of an unfair labor practice charge against UFCW Local 700, NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce and Members Kent Y. Hirozawa and Nancy J. Schiffer said the union complied with the board's three-step framework for providing information about the rights of dues objectors under Communications Workers of America v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735, 128 LRRM 2729 (1988). The framework “continues to strike a reasonable balance between the competing interests involved,” they said, “and we reaffirm it today.”

Dissenting Members Philip A. Miscimarra and Harry I. Johnson agreed with the NLRB's general counsel that unions should be required to inform employees of the amounts they would owe for union representation before they decide whether to become Beck objectors.

ALJ Dismissed Complaint Against Local

According to the decision, after Laura Sands went to work at a Kroger LP grocery in Indiana, Local 700 notified her the union and company had a union-security agreement that required covered employees to join the union or to pay nonmember fees for union representation.

If Sands objected to paying the full equivalent of member dues and fees, the union said, her financial obligations would be reduced, but the union did not give Sands more specific information. She joined the union, but then resigned and objected to paying Local 700 for any purpose other than collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance processing.

The board said the union then informed the employee her monthly obligations would be $21.84, about 14 percent lower than the amount paid by union members.

Sands did not challenge the union's calculation, but filed an unfair labor practice charge, and the NLRB's general counsel issued a complaint alleging the union had violated the National Labor Relations Act.

An administrative law judge dismissed the complaint, relying on the board's 1995 decision in California Saw and Knife Works, 320 N.L.R.B. 224, 151 LRRM 1121 (1995), and the board affirmed.

Board Stands by Three-Step Framework

Under California Saw, the board said, Local 700's “stage 1” obligation was to inform Sands of her right to refrain from union membership, to advise her of any internal union procedures for objecting to payment of full dues and fees, and to give her enough information to decide intelligently whether to object.

At stage 2, once the employee has objected, the board said a union must disclose the percentage of dues reduction that a nonmember will receive. Sands received that information, the board observed.

Stage 3 under California Saw requires a union to provide information related to challenging a calculation of the nonmember percentage, but Sands made no such challenge.

The California Saw framework “continues to strike a reasonable balance between the competing interests involved,” the three-member board majority said.

Sands and the general counsel argued that to enable employees to make intelligent decisions about exercising their Beck rights, unions should be required at stage 1 to provide the details now disclosed at stage 2, but the board majority disagreed.

Pearce, Hirozawa, and Schiffer wrote that “we find that California Saw's stage 1 notice, as currently constituted, reasonably fulfills the interest of potential objectors in being notified of their rights and in easily registering an objection without any undue burdens.”

Finding that an expansion of the stage 1 obligations “risks saddling unions with administrative and financial burdens that many unions might find impossible or impractical to meet,” the board reaffirmed California Saw.

In their dissent, Miscimarra and Johnson said, “Requiring that unions provide employees with the percentage of nonrepresentational expenses at stage 1, before the employees must decide their status under a union-security clause, comports with basic considerations of fairness, is essential to the exercise of their statutory rights, and is consistent with the overwhelming national approach of ‘more notice, not less.' ”


To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

Text of the opinion is available at