FLRA Proposes Restrictions on Canceling Union Dues
The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) has issued a proposed rule regarding restrictions on federal employees who want to cancel their dues withholding authorization from their paycheck for sending money to a federal employee union.
In a Federal Register notice, the FLRA proposes:
- Either revising 5 C.F.R. § 2429.19 to provide that dues revocations may be processed only at one-year intervals, or, alternatively, rescinding § 2429.19 in its entirety; and
- (2) rescinding the Authority’s general statement of policy or guidance in OPM, 71 FLRA 571 (2020).
Policy Allowing Easier Cancelation of Union Dues Instituted in 2020
There is little doubt that the FLRA will institute a new policy that reverts back to the previous system of restricting when a federal employee will be able to cancel a dues-withholding authorization. Prior to the change in 2020, the FLRA had concluded that the labor relations statute restricts employees from revoking dues payments only at one-year intervals.
In July 2020, the Federal Labor Relations Authority issued a rule making it easier for federal employees to cancel dues withholding. At that time, the FedSmith article read:
The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) has issued a “final rule” on an issue based on a request for a general statement of policy from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The result is a decision that some federal employees will applaud as they can now more easily cancel their withholding of a union dues payment. The new rule was published in the Federal Register on July 9, 2020….
On the other hand, federal employee unions will not like the decision as it will impact their financial security by making it easier for federal employees to cancel their dues withholding.
The FLRA’s new policy restricted canceling union dues payments during the first year after starting to pay dues to a federal union. After the first year, employees were allowed to revoke their payment of union dues at any time. The FLRA had concluded there was not anything in the labor relations statute that “expressly addresses the revocation of dues assignments after the first year.”
Supreme Court Decision and Union Dues
The issue of restricting the ability of an employee to cancel paying dues to a union came about as a result of a Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018).
In Janus, the Supreme Court determined that requiring public employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment violates their First Amendment rights “by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”
The National Right to Work Committee submitted this comment to the FLRA which was quote in the Federal Register:
…the Foundation urged the FLRA to issue guidance to agencies that they “must cease deducting union dues from the wages of employees who signed a dues deduction form that does not satisfy the [Janus] standard.” Federal employees who signed dues deduction authorizations before the Janus decision did not knowingly waive their Janus rights. Consequently, union dues cannot legally be deducted from their paychecks.https://www.nrtw.org/news/flra-comments-08122019/
At the time, this organization estimated that about one million federal employees were having union dues withheld from their paychecks. It argued that federal employees were in a position of “never having knowingly waived their First Amendment right not to subsidize union activities as protected by Janus.” And, it concluded, “The government is seizing union dues from close to one million federal workers in violation of the First Amendment, and federal agencies have an obligation to act swiftly to ensure that workers’ Janus rights are fully protected.”
Concerns of Federal Employee Unions
Reducing restrictions on the ability of a federal employee to cancel dues withholding was a concern to federal employee unions.
One federal union made this comment in a press release:
The Authority’s decision is just another step toward the administration’s goal of busting unions and making it even harder for rank-and-file federal employees to speak up, defend their rights, and serve the American people. This meritless decision flies in the face of decades of settled and well-reasoned legal precedent in an activist effort to divide federal employees from their unions.
Concern about the impact on their financial security, unions sometimes worked to restrict the impact of the FLRA decision by issuing guidance to minimize the financial impact.
In its proposal, the FLRA cites a submission by the National Treasury Employees Union giving these reasons for reverting to the former practice of restricting the ability of a federal employee to cancel a dues payment:
- First, reverting back would restore financial security and predictability for unions.
- Second, provide for dues revocation only at one-year intervals would restore unions’ bargaining posture and open up new areas for negotiation
- Third, putting the dues withholding restrictions “would honor employee choice”, and “allowing revocations only at one-year intervals would not infringe on employees’ rights….”
Submitting Comments to the FLRA
Comments on the FLRA’s proposal must be received on or before January 20, 2023. The requirements for submitting comments are outlined in the Federal Register notice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the FLRA?
The Federal Labor Relations Agency administers the labor-management relations program for 2.1 million non-Postal federal employees, approximately 1.2 million of whom are represented in 2,200 bargaining units. It establishes policies and guidance related to federal sector labor-management relations and with resolving disputes under, and ensuring compliance with, the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.
What is the Federal Labor Relations Statute?
The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute is a federal law that establishes collective bargaining rights for most employees of the federal government in the United States. It was established under Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.
Are Federal Employees Required to Join a Union?
No, federal employees are free to join or not join a union. Paying dues to a federal employee union is voluntary. Once dues are initiated by the employee, there are restrictions on how these dues can be canceled.
What Does the Labor Relations Law Say About Federal Union Dues Withholding?
5 U.S. Code § 7115: “If an agency has received from an employee in an appropriate unit a written assignment which authorizes the agency to deduct from the pay of the employee amounts for the payment of regular and periodic dues of the exclusive representative of the unit, the agency shall honor the assignment and make an appropriate allotment pursuant to the assignment. Any such allotment shall be made at no cost to the exclusive representative or the employee. Except as provided under subsection (b) of this section, any such assignment may not be revoked for a period of 1 year.