“I am a federal employee. Do I have to pay dues to be represented by the union?”
No. If you are a member of the bargaining unit (eligible to join a union), the Union must represent dues paying members and non-dues paying members generally equally, without regard to whether dues were paid by the person requesting representation. See, Title 5 USC 7114(a)(1). Failure to do so may result in a Duty of Fair Representation Complaint. Note, litigation before the FLRA is complex in a practical sense.
7114. Representation rights and duties.
(a)(1) A labor organization which has been accorded exclusive recognition is the exclusive representative of the employees in the unit it represents and is entitled to act for, and negotiate collective bargaining agreements covering, all employees in the unit. An exclusive representative is responsible for representing the interests of all employees in the unit it represents without discrimination and without regard to labor organization membership.
It is important to note that the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) will first examine whether the union has exclusive representational authority over the matter in dispute. Fort Bragg, 28 FLRA 908 , 87 FLRR 1-1434 (FLRA 1987). That is to say that if you could pursue the matter independently, for example a civil lawsuit on your own, then the union has no obligation to include you in its lawsuit affecting dues paying members. In fact, the union could charge you an unregulated fee to join the lawsuit in this instance. However, if the union has exclusive rights, such as the negotiated grievance procedure, it cannot deny representation on the basis you are not a dues paying member. In the instance, and generally speaking, the union could only deny you representation based on the merits of your case as it would a case from a dues paying member. All employees, dues paying members or not, should also consider that there is no absolute right to arbitration under any circumstance provided the union makes decisions on the merits of grievances in a good-faith, non-arbitrary manner. Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171 (U.S. 1967).
Concerning day to day operational activities during which you may require representation, the same rules noted above apply. For example, if a federal employee non-dues paying member is undergoing an examination in the Weingarten context, the union is under no obligation to provide a union representative to assist you because you may designate another representative such as another employee.
Always consult your union master agreement (“Union Contract”) to determine whether the union has exclusive control. Even if you do not pay dues to the union, the union contract applies to you for better or worse.
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