FLRA rule allows feds to opt-out of union dues

Unions blast decision to allow workers to discontinue their payments at outside the traditional annual "window."

The Federal Labor Relations Authority is finalizing a controversial rule that would make it easier for federal employees to opt out of paying union dues.

In February, the FLRA announced after a 2-1 ruling that federal employees could cease paying union dues at any time, instead of having to wait until a specific annual time window.

The new rule was published in the Federal Register on July 9. It would allow federal employees to cancel their union dues at any time after a year.

Federal unions such as the National Treasury Employees Union and American Federation of Government Employees excoriated the change as an anti-union sentiment designed to weaken federal workers’ collective bargaining rights.

A week after the February ruling, NTEU filed to challenge the decision in the D.C. District Court of Appeals.

“This meritless action by the FLRA is yet another step toward this administration’s goal of busting labor unions and making it even harder for rank-and-file federal employees to speak up, defend their rights, and serve the American people,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement published July 8.

The motivation for the rule came after the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME that found that free speech rights prevented public-sector unions from compelling non-members to pay union dues and that unions were obligated to represent all non-members.

The Office of Personnel Management later asked the FLRA for clarity as to how the Court’s decision might apply to federal-sector unions and the dues they charged.

When it announced its February decision, the FLRA said that its previous practices of only allowing dues cancellations during specific annual windows was based on a previous policy decision and not justified by any existing legislation. 

FLRA Chairwoman Colleen Kiko Duffy disputed claims that the new rule would be used to undermine union membership.

“In many of the public comments we received, federal employees and agencies expressed frustration at how difficult and time-consuming the dues-revocation process had become,” she said in a statement.

“This regulation does not prevent any employee from voluntarily continuing their dues withholding should they so desire.”

One FLRA member, Ernest DuBester, dissented, arguing that the new rule was confusing.

“Like similar decisions in which the majority has overturned Authority precedent without a plausible rationale, the rule it has now crafted to implement its flawed decision will generate ‘more questions than answers,’” he wrote.

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