Ellis v. Brotherhood of Ry. Employes
Annotate this Case
466 U.S. 435 (1984)
U.S. Supreme Court
Ellis v. Brotherhood of Ry. Employes, 466 U.S. 435 (1984)
Ellis v. Brotherhood of Railway, Airline & Steamship Clerks,
Freight Handlers, Express & Station Employes
Argued January 9, 1984
Decided April 26, 1984
466 U.S. 435
Section 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act permits a union and an employer to require all employees in the relevant bargaining unit to join the union as a condition of continued employment. The collective bargaining agreement between respondent national union and an airline required that all of the airline's clerical employees join the union or pay agency fees equal to members' dues. Petitioners, present or former clerical employees who objected to the use of their compelled dues or fees for specified union activities, filed separate suits (later consolidated) in Federal District Court against respondents -- the national union, its board of adjustment, and three locals -- who conceded that, as was held in Machinists v. Street, 367 U. S. 740, the statutory authorization of the union shop did not permit a union to spend an objecting employee's money for union political or ideological activities, and who had adopted a rebate program under which objecting employees were ultimately reimbursed for their shares of such expenditures. The parties disagreed about the adequacy of the rebate scheme, and about the legality of charging objecting employees with union expenses for (1) the national union's quadrennial Grand Lodge convention, (2) litigation not involving the negotiation of agreements or settlement of grievances, (3) union publications, (4) social activities, (5) death benefits for employees, and (6) general organizing efforts. Granting summary judgment for petitioners on the question of liability concerning the six expenses at issue, the court, after a trial on damages, held that the union's existing rebate program adequately protected employees' rights, and ordered refunds for the expenditures at issue. Affirming in part and reversing in part, the Court of Appeals upheld the union's rebate plan, but ruled that, because the six challenged activities ultimately benefited the union's collective bargaining efforts, it could finance them with dues collected from objecting employees.
1. Petitioners' challenge to the rebate program is properly before the Court. Although the claim for an injunction against the program would appear to be moot because the union has been decertified as the bargaining
representative of the airline's clerical employees, petitioners' additional claim for money damages, which would be in the form of interest on money illegally held for a period of time, remains in the case. Pp. 466 U. S. 441-443.
2. The union's pure rebate approach for refunding the portion of dues expended for improper purposes to which the employee objects is inadequate. Even if the union were to pay interest on the amount refunded, it would still obtain an involuntary loan for purposes to which the employee objected. Given the existence of acceptable alternatives, such as advance reduction of dues, a union cannot be allowed, on the ground of administrative convenience, to commit dissenters' funds to improper uses even temporarily. Pp. 466 U. S. 443-444.
3. While petitioners' primary submission is that the use of their fees to finance the challenged activities violated the First Amendment, the initial inquiry is whether the statute permits the union to charge petitioners for any of the challenged expenditures. The purpose of § 2, Eleventh in authorizing the union shop was to make it possible to require all members of a bargaining unit to pay their fair share of the union's costs of performing the function of exclusive bargaining agent, thus eliminating "free rider" employees on whose behalf the union was obliged to perform its statutory functions, but who refused to contribute to the cost thereof. When employees object to being burdened with particular union expenditures, the test must be whether the challenged expenditures are necessarily or reasonably incurred for the purpose of performing the duties of an exclusive representative of the employees in dealing with the employer on labor-management issues. Pp. 466 U. S. 444-448.
4. With regard to the specific union expenses challenged here, under the applicable test, petitioners must help defray the costs of the national union's conventions, at which the members elect officers, establish bargaining goals, and formulate overall union policy. Such conventions are essential to the union's discharge of its duties as bargaining agent. Petitioners may also be charged for union social activities, which, though not central to collective bargaining, are sufficiently related to it to be charged to all employees. The statute also allows the union to charge objecting employees for its monthly magazine insofar as it reports to them about those activities the union can charge them for doing, but not insofar as the magazine reports on activities for which the union cannot spend dissenters' funds. Section 2, Eleventh does not authorize charging objecting employees for the union's general organizing efforts, or for expenses of litigation that is not incident to negotiating and administering the contract or to settling grievances and disputes arising in the bargaining unit. The question whether the statute authorizes compelled
participation in a death benefit program need not be ruled upon, because the union is no longer the exclusive bargaining agent, and petitioners are no longer involved in the program. Even assuming that petitioners would have a right to an injunction against future collections for death benefits, they are not entitled to a refund of past contributions, since they had enjoyed a form of insurance for which the union collected a premium. Pp. 466 U. S. 448-455.
5. There is no First Amendment barrier with regard to the three challenged activities for which the statute allows the union to use petitioners' contributions. The significant interference with First Amendment rights resulting from allowing the union shop is justified by the governmental interest in industrial peace. Forced contributions for union social affairs do not increase the infringement of the employee's First Amendment rights. And while both union publications and conventions have direct communicative content, there is little additional infringement of First Amendment rights, and none that is not justified by the governmental interests behind the union shop itself. Pp. 466 U. S. 455-457.
685 F.2d 1065, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II, III, IV, and V (except Subdivision 1) of which POWELL, J., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 466 U. S. 457.