Board Rules Employers May Not Unilaterally Stop Deducting Dues When Contract Terminates

In a significant step forward for labor, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) overruled Bethlehem Steel Co., 136 NLRB 1500 (1962) in WKYC-TV, Inc., 359 NLRB No. 30 (December 12, 2012).  Bethlehem Steel had held for 50 years that union security/dues-checkoff clauses, may be cancelled by employers upon contract expiration. 

This striking new decision reverses this—an employer may NOT unilaterally cease deducting dues pursuant to a checkoff provision at expiration of the contract, without first bargaining with the union.  The Board wrote that dues checkoff “does not involve the contractual surrender of any statutory or nonstatutory right.  Rather, it is simply a matter of administrative convenience to a union and employees whereby an employer agrees that it will establish a system where employees may, if they choose, pay their dues through automatic payroll deduction.”

The decision distinguishes dues checkoff from the arbitration, no-strike and management rights provisions in contracts, which the Board described as instances where the “parties all waived rights they would otherwise enjoy in the interest of concluding an agreement, and such waivers are presumed not to survive the contract.” 

Many in the employer community view this decision as a signal this Board will not be shying away from its new  more “union-friendly” Obama-era reputation.     

By Lisl Duncan

Legal Developments