NTEU filed the suit to stop the plan from moving forward.

NTEU filed the suit to stop the plan from moving forward. Chelsea Bland / AFGE

Union Sues to Block a Plan That Would Make It Easier for Feds to Quit Paying Dues

Labor authority last week signaled that it will move ahead on the plan, although critics say the agency's legal justification doesn’t add up.

The National Treasury Employees Union on Tuesday sued to block the agency that governs labor-management relations across federal agencies from implementing a plan to make it easier for federal workers to stop paying union dues, accusing officials of abetting the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on labor groups.

Last week, the Federal Labor Relations Authority announced that it would overturn nearly four decades of precedent and rule that federal labor law allows employees to cancel their union dues at any time after one year. Since the early 1980s, the FLRA has consistently interpreted the law to allow employees to opt out of union membership only at one-year intervals.

The decision came after the Office of Personnel Management asked the FLRA to reconsider its interpretation in light of the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Supreme Court decision, which found that state and local governments could no longer charge so-called “agency fees,” where non-union members are forced to pay a labor organization for representation work.

In a blistering dissent, FLRA Member Ernest DuBester said Janus does not declare the current federal collective bargaining scheme unconstitutional, and accused his colleagues of using it as a pretext to stack the deck against unions. In Janus, the court actually lauded the system by which federal employee unions collect dues only voluntarily from employees, and in subsequent cases, federal courts have ruled against workers trying to opt out of their dues midway through their one-year intervals.

On Tuesday, NTEU filed a formal petition for review of the FLRA’s decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Unlike most other agencies, actions by the FLRA may be challenged directly before federal appellate courts.

In a statement, NTEU National President Tony Reardon noted that his union makes it clear to prospective members that when they join, they agree to pay dues at one-year intervals, and highlights the annual period in which members can disenroll.

“There is only one reason to change one-year dues collection agreements, and that is to try and harm unions,” Reardon said. “This action reveals in stark terms just how determined the administration is to roll back the rights and benefits of federal employees. Our members chose to join our union because they believe in empowering federal employees in the workplace, and this FLRA decision does not change that. However, NTEU remains committed to upholding federal labor law and that is why we are challenging this decision in court.”