Late in 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision that is welcome news to unionized employers. In Valley Hospital Medical Center, the NLRB ruled that employers can now stop collecting dues payments for the union upon expiration of a collective bargaining agreement, at least until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is negotiated and the employer again agrees to collect union dues. This change represents a return to the rule established nearly six decades ago in the case called Bethlehem Steel.
For those of you who do not remember, automatic dues collection used to be one of the few mandatory bargaining subjects that did not survive expiration of a CBA. For more than fifty years NLRB precedent allowed an employer to take unilateral action and stop collecting union dues from employees any time after a collective bargaining agreement had expired. The ability to stop collecting and remitting union dues at will provided employers with significant leverage in the bargaining process. However, that changed when the NLRB issued a decision in 2015 known as Lincoln Lutheran of Racine, 362 NLRB No. 188 (2015).
In Lincoln Lutheran, the NLRB found that Bethlehem Steel and its progeny should be overruled. Since that time, it has been unlawful for an employer to stop collecting and remitting union dues even if the CBA had expired. At the time, many felt that Lincoln Lutheran represented an overreach by the NLRB, considering it overruled more than fifty years of precedent.
Fortunately, for employers, the current NLRB continues to swing the pendulum back in favor of management. From now on, an employer can stop collecting dues and remitting them to the Union at any point after expiration of the CBA. Employers once more have a significant piece of leverage in negotiations after contract expiration.