Why Beck Rights Are Important To Labor Unions

Union leaders may view the exercise of Beck rights as their worst nightmare. This need not be the case. Unions currently have a workplace monopoly which enables them to collect dues through compulsory union security agreements. A voluntary membership and dues system would avoid Beck problems completely and return unions to the true service organizations they were originally envisioned to be.

The current union approach of suppressing information and confusing members regarding Beck rights risks alienating rank-and-file members and ruining union credibility. In the short run, there is little doubt that unions will experience a loss of revenue, a potential loss of members, and significant expenses in bookkeeping procedures and litigation expenses necessary to resolve Beck complaints.

The 1994 Current Population Survey (CPS) 53  determined that there are 960,600 active union members employed in the state of Michigan. According to the Luntz survey findings that only 22% of union members know of their Beck rights, it can be presumed that around 493,000 Michigan private sector union members do not know of their reduced dues rights under the Beck decision, and some 257,000 Michigan public sector employees are likewise unaware of their Constitutional rights under similar U.S. Supreme Court cases. Assuming the Luntz Research findings are accurate, a tremendous 750,000 Michigan union members or agency fee payers are not aware of their Beck rights, and approximately 384,000 Michigan union members would be very likely to exercise those rights if they were made aware of them. 54  The unions face the possibility that they may lose these many members which would reduce their income and bargaining strength.

Union leaders seem frightened by the potential loss of their coercive power to extract mandatory dues money for partisan or political purposes. Union officials have downplayed the impact of Beck and have predicted that the number of nonmember employees stepping forward to object will be negligible. Union attorneys optimistically predict that 80% to 90% of collected dues can be shown to be used for collective bargaining purposes. 55 

The potential Beck cost to unions is difficult to predict because of the uncertainty of the variables involved. Assuming only one-third the number of union members predicted by Luntz would pursue a refund, and using a union claim that only 20% of union dues may be refundable, Michigan unions face an annual potential payout of over $10 million to workers exercising their Beck rights. 56  The actual payout could be much higher.

If union leaders were truly confident that they spend most dues-generated revenue in accordance with Beck, there would be no reason to suppress information regarding these rights. It is disingenuous for unions to argue on the one hand that Beck rights are meaningless while fighting Beck objectors every step of the way. It is evident that more widespread knowledge of Beck rights will result in more workers seeking refunds and future reduced dues, and that is probably the heart of the unions’ fears.

Pursuing a "hear no evil, see no evil" strategy will hurt the union movement in the long run. The secret cannot be bottled up forever. Beck is the law of the land, and it is here to stay. To the extent that unions avoid or delay compliance with Beck, they stand to alienate their rank-and-file who will eventually learn of the union’s efforts to keep employees in the dark. As employees become more informed of Beck rights, unions risk losing credibility for the current strategy of silence, suppression, and delay.

Unions have control over this situation. A better course of action for the unions would be to recognize Beck’s implications and adopt a policy that no union dues will be used for political activities without the express written consent of members and nonmembers alike. Unions should provide an annual detailed financial accounting to each member, outlining the preceding year’s expenditures. Those unions that refuse to adopt these policies risk future actions from the legislature, the NLRB, and the courts, all of which could set and regulate internal union policies.