The Supreme Court's Beck Decision Recognizes Individual Worker Rights

A decade ago, the U. S. Supreme Court established what are now known as "Beck rights" in the landmark decision Communication Workers v. Beck.1 Beck rights dictate that workers cannot be forced under union contracts to pay any dues or fees beyond those necessary for the performance of the union's employee representation duties.

In other words, any worker who objects to his union's use of his dues money for purposes not directly related to collective bargaining is entitled to a refund of that portion of his dues. Beck rights are a triumph of individual rights over the political weight of union leaders.

Although the Beck rights of union workers are well established as a matter of American labor policy, they go largely unrealized in practice for the following four reasons:

  • Most workers simply do not know that they have these rights;

  • Workers who are aware of these rights are forced to make the sometimes-untenable choice of resigning from their union in order to exercise them;

  • Workers do not have recourse to an effective legal enforcement mechanism if their Beck rights are denied them by their employer or union; and

  • Unions, who don't agree with the exercise of Beck rights, often engage in a variety of tactics to delay and frustrate workers who wish to limit their dues payments.

Each of these four issues is considered below.