Freedom Foundation

Federal Labor Relations Authority adopts Freedom Foundation-supported union dues regulation

Concluding a yearlong process, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) in July adopted a Freedom Foundation-supported regulation making it easier for union-represented federal employees to cancel unwanted union dues deductions from their wages.

At issue was the proper interpretation of a provision in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute which requires federal agencies to deduct union dues from the paychecks of any employee who authorizes such deductions in writing. The law specifies that, once authorized, the deductions “may not be revoked for a period of 1 year.”

In a 1981 decision, the FLRA wrote that the law “…must be interpreted to mean that authorized dues allotments may be revoked only at intervals of 1 year.” In practice, this has meant federal employees can only cancel dues deductions from their wages during short, annual window periods.

However, in July 2019, the FLRA announced its intent to revisit its prior interpretation via a “general statement of policy or guidance.” During the ensuing public comment period, the Freedom Foundation filed written comments with the FLRA arguing that its prior view of the law was legally indefensible for multiple reasons and that, properly understood, the law simply meant that a union dues deduction authorization could not be rescinded for one year after its execution, but could be revoked any time thereafter.

After processing comments received, the FLRA released its policy guidance on the subject in February 2020, adopting the view advocated by the Freedom Foundation and noting that the change “would assure employees the fullest freedom in the exercise of their rights.” The guidance also announced the FLRA’s intention to promulgate new regulations implementing it’s view that dues deductions can be cancelled at any point after the first year following their authorization.

The proposed regulations were released the following month and underwent an additional public comment period during which the Freedom Foundation again filed written comments in support.

The final rule — which was announced in July and took effect on August 10 — provides that, “…after the expiration of the one-year period during which an assignment may not be revoked under 5 U.S.C. 7115(a), an employee may initiate the revocation of a previously authorized assignment at any time that the employee chooses.”

Unions objected to the change on various grounds, while several employees commented in support, pointing out that,

“…it was difficult to determine their anniversary dates, as well as the window periods during which they were permitted to submit an SF-1188, in order to be able to revoke their previously authorized dues assignments. In addition, they explained that, in their experiences, the unions that represented them were not helpful in determining the applicable anniversary dates or form-submission window periods.”

And, as the FLRA pointed out in its response to union comments, if the unions object to the way the federal government collects dues on their behalf, “…nothing prevents unions from developing dues-payment arrangements outside the federal payroll system that would provide them a greater measure of funding predictability.”

While still short of an ideal dues deduction process for federal employees, the new regulation maximizes employee rights under the existing statute, advances the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, and sets a positive example for state government officials administering similar dues collection practices for non-federal public employees.