Workers Must Resign from Their Unions to Exercise Beck Rights

Employees who eventually learn of their Beck rights and want to exercise them are routinely required by their unions to resign their memberships. Because the Beck decision did not address whether an employee can be required to resign from his union in order to exercise his rights, unions impose this condition to discourage their members from pursuing Beck opportunities. Unions should, however, rethink this policy: It makes little sense to force people out when the strength of the labor movement is declining rapidly.

Forced resignation is a powerful deterrent to employees seeking to exercise their rights. Given a labor union's legally enforced status as exclusive employee representative, an employee's sole means of control is to influence his union's internal processes. The only effective way to do that is for him to become or remain a union member and participate in its governance. Depending on the employee's level of participation, he can influence critical decisions about negotiation strategies and goals, how the collective bargaining agreement will be enforced, and which grievances should be taken to arbitration. Participation in strike votes, ratification or rejection of contract terms, and union elections are also important rights of union membership that many Beck objectors must forgo.

Exercising Beck rights in the workplace has other effects. Peer pressure and bullying from within union ranks often discourages members from exercising their rights. Employees who object to paying full union dues may experience an uncomfortable working environment and tension among coworkers who support the union's political and ideological causes. Other members may feel that Beck objectors want to shirk the full payment of dues while accepting the benefits of union representation.

In truth, however, nonmembers must pay for exactly those services the union renders according to the duty of fair representation to all dues payers. More often than not, the primary reason that rank-and-file union members do not exercise Beck rights is simply because they are pressured to avoid "rocking the boat" by engaging in a disloyal act against union leadership interests.