FLRA set to allow federal workers to stop paying union dues after first year of membership

On Feb. 14, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which administers the laws governing federal labor relations, issued a 2-1 decision that will, upon implementation of supporting regulations, permit federal workers to stop paying union dues at any time after their first year of dues-paying membership. Prior to this, federal workers have only been permitted to rescind their union-dues assignments at one-year intervals. (For more information about the FLRA, see below.)

What is at issue? Section 7115(a) of the Federal Service Labor‑Management Relations Statute states, “[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.” The statute states that “any such assignment may not be revoked for a period of [one] year.”

In the past, the FLRA has interpreted the latter portion of the law to mean that dues deduction authorizations can only be revoked in one-year intervals. After the Supreme Court issued its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, ruling that public-sector unions could not compel non-members to pay fees, the Office of Personnel Management petitioned the FLRA for guidance on Janus’ applicability to § 7115(a).

How did the FLRA rule? Colleen Duffy Kiko, the FLRA’s chairwoman, wrote the 2-1 decision (James T. Abbott wrote a separate concurring opinion). Kiko rejected earlier FLRA interpretations of § 7115(a): “Although the Authority has stated that the wording in § 7115(a) ‘must be interpreted’ to mean that dues assignments may be revoked only at one‑year intervals following the first year, in fact, the Authority made a policy judgment to impose annual revocation periods after the first year of an assignment. In other words, notwithstanding previous assertions otherwise, § 7115(a) neither compels, nor even supports, the existing policy on annual revocation windows. Because it remains our privilege and responsibility to interpret the Statute in a manner that is consistent with an efficient and effective government, we cannot allow our decisions or statements of policy to merely rubber-stamp what was said in the past.”

Kiko said the FLRA would begin developing regulations to support this reading of the statute: “In our view, it would assure employees the fullest freedom in the exercise of their rights under the Statute if, after the expiration of the initial one‑year period during which an assignment may not be revoked under § 7115(a), an employee had the right to initiate the revocation of a previously authorized dues assignment at any time that the employee chooses. Therefore, in the near future, the Authority intends to commence notice‑and‑comment rulemaking concerning § 7115(a), with the aim of adopting an implementing regulation that hews more closely to the Statute’s text.”

In his dissent, Ernest DuBester wrote, “The majority’s decision today constitutes the sort of judicial activism that is squarely inconsistent with the Authority’s decision-making responsibilities under our Statute. The request for a policy statement ostensibly giving rise to the majority’s decision relies upon a Supreme Court decision that – by its own terms – has nothing to do with federal-sector labor relations. Nevertheless, the majority seizes this fabricated opportunity to reverse the Authority’s well-reasoned precedent concerning § 7115(a) with barely a passing nod to the comments the Authority solicited on this matter.”

How are unions reacting?

  • Everett Kelley, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, criticized the decision: “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.”
  • Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), said, “NTEU remains committed to upholding federal labor law and that is why we are challenging this decision in court.”

More about the Federal Labor Relations Authority: The Federal Labor Relations Authority administers the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, which permits certain non-postal federal employees to unionize and bargain collectively. The FLRA has three full-time members, each of whom is a presidential appointee. Members serve five-year terms.

Kiko and Abbot were both appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2017. DuBester was first appointed by President Barack Obama (D) in 2009. DuBester was subsequently re-appointed to second and third terms by Obama and Trump, respectively.

What we’ve been reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 85 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

Union Station map February 21, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Union Station status chart February 21, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Union Station partisan chart February 21, 2020.png

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state then by bill number.

  • Colorado HB1169: This bill would bar employers from requiring union membership or payment of union dues as a condition of employment.
    • House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 18.
    • Republican sponsorship.
  • Connecticut HB05270: This bill would grant union representatives access to new employee orientations and employee personal/contact information. It would also authorize payroll deductions for dues, vesting unions with the authority to maintain authorization records.
    • Introduced and referred to Joint Labor and Public Employees Committee Feb. 20.
    • Committee sponsorship.
  • Connecticut SB00228: This bill would grant union representatives access to new employee orientations and employee personal/contact information. It would also authorize payroll deductions for dues, vesting unions with the authority to maintain authorization records.
    • Introduced and referred to Joint Labor and Public Employees Committee Feb. 20.
    • Committee sponsorship.
  • Maryland SB388: This bill would grant collective bargaining rights to certain employees of the circuit courts and the District Court of Maryland.
    • Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 20.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • Maryland SB658: This bill would grant collective bargaining rights to graduate assistants in the University of Maryland system, Morgan State University, and St. Mary’s College.
    • Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 21.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • New Mexico SB110: This bill would make various amendments to the state’s public-sector labor relations laws.
    • Referred to Senate Finance Committee Feb. 15.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • Oklahoma SB1724: This bill would require written authorization for school employees to deduct union dues and political contributions from their paychecks.
    • Referred to Senate Education Committee Feb. 19.
    • Republican sponsorship.
  • Vermont S0254: This bill would require public employers to provide unions with employee contact information. It would provide for the automatic deduction of union dues from members’ paychecks, and it would permit unions to meet with new employees to provide them with information regarding union membership.
    • Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 18.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • Virginia HB582: This bill would repeal the existing prohibition against collective bargaining by public employees.
    • Senate Commerce and Labor Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 17.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • Virginia SB939: This bill would permit local governments to recognize unions as bargaining agents for public-sector workers.
    • Referred to House Labor and Commerce Committee Feb. 18.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • Washington HB2017: This bill would establish collective bargaining rights for administrative law judges.
    • Senate Labor and Commerce Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 20.
    • Democratic sponsorship.



About the author

Jerrick Adams

Jerrick Adams is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at jerrick.adams@ballotpedia.org

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