May 16, 2012 Print

Background on opting out of a union

Because of our monumental conflict with the Washington Education Association to stop unwanted electioneering with union dues, people regularly call the Freedom Foundation with questions about how to opt out or quit a union in Washington state.

I assembled this brief summary and am providing it here for reference.

First, the experts on the subject who also provide free legal advice are the folks at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Second, whether paying a union may be required as a condition of employment depends on whether the state laws are “right to work” or “union security.” In the 23 right to work states, one cannot be fired for refusing to pay a union. In states like Washington, contract provisions for public and private sector employers may contain a “union security clause.” I presume it has that name because union officials sleep more securely when income is guaranteed.

Third, the employer (not the state law) decides whether or not to agree to the union security clause in the contract. Since union security is the highest priority of union officials, this provision is nearly always sought by union negotiators. Many public employers are governed by officials elected with the help of union contributions, and the resistance to including a union security clause is often absent.

Fourth, even if employers agree to contracts with union security provisions, state law and US Constitutional law offer employees who object to the union two options.

Pay a lesser fee. Since the right to associate includes the right to not associate, the union cannot require anyone to be a member. The union security provision of contracts will typically describe the obligation to pay a fee for workplace representation. The US Supreme Court has specified that the fee may not pay for extraneous activities, and unions imposing the fee must calculate and not charge or refund nonchargeable expenditures like politicking. Because fee payers are paying for workplace services like bargaining and grievance assistance, unions remain obligated to provide these services.

Pay a charity rather than the union. Provision is also made for those who have an objection to union membership because some aspect of union activity or membership violates their personal faith. Typically, religious objectors are permitted to donate to a charity in lieu of paying union dues. In the Wiggs v. Vancouver case, the Freedom Foundation helped assure that the union could not thwart an employee's selection of a charity.

That is it in a nutshell.

More information:
National Right to Work Foundation (NRTW) explanation:

Handout assembling the explanation and sample opt-out letter provided by NRTW:

Background on religious objection for certificated school employees represented by WEA/NEA based upon our publication “When Values Collide” published in 2003.

A professional association called Northwest Professional Educators offers services to education employees in Washington:


Jami Lund

Senior Policy Analyst

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