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Union ‘fair share’ fees protect all workers without infringing on free speech

by robert bruno - University of illinois at chicago School of Labor and Employment Relations   |  02/02/2018

The labor movement is bracing for a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that not only threatens to erode the ability of unions to protect workers against abusive employer practices, but also perpetuates the rhetoric that individuals “are forced” to join a union.

Under Illinois law, public sector unions owe a duty of fair representation to members of a bargaining unit where the union has been elected by the workers to represent them. Workers in this situation are entitled to union representation regardless of whether they are actually members of the union.

However, the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act also provides that unions and governmental employers can, and often do, negotiate a “union security clause” that authorizes non-union members to pay agency fees for “wages, hours and other conditions of employment.” As a consequence, members of a bargaining unit do not have to join the union that represents them for purposes of collective bargaining, but they do have to pay for that representation.

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