Although not specifically decided to benefit religious objectors, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1988 Beck decision88 does provide some protection which may well meet the needs of those seeking accommodation of their religious objections to union membership or payment of dues or fees.

Religious objectors often complain about the use of their dues by the unions to fund social and ideological causes which conflict with their fundamental religious beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court in Beck and other judicial decisions has established two important protections for union workers whether they be private- or public-sector employees:

  • The right to receive a financial breakdown of how the union spends its funds and the right to challenge the figures, and

  • The right to withhold payment of that portion of union dues which is spent on the union's political, social, and ideological goals. (The amount spent on collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance processing must still be paid.)

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that private-sector employees have the right to refuse to join their workplace unions, even though the language of their labor contract may state otherwise.89Each worker has the legal right to resign form his union and cease to be bound by its constitution and by-laws, which may require participation in strikes and other activities.

Only a fraction of union members are aware of these so-called Beck rights. Widespread awareness and enforcement of Beck rights would probably have at least two related effects:

  • Hundreds of dollars per year in savings to individual workers, and

  • Millions of dollars less in annual labor union income that is now used to fund political, social, ideological, and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining.

Perhaps even more important to religious objectors than the money saved would be their greater exercise of freedom of speech and association under Beck. Under the Beck doctrine, objectors are not compelled to state the specific reasons for their objections—in other words, religious objectors are not forced to identify "religious reasons" to lodge a valid objection to paying full union dues.

For an example of the kind of letter one should send to a union and/or employer in order to exercise Beck rights, see Appendix II at the end of this report.