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Unions and Democracy: When Do Nonmembers Have Voting Rights?
J. Bus. & Tech. L. (2014)
  • Melanie Stallings Williams, California State University, Northridge
  • Dennis A. Halcoussis

Unions were created – and their operations covered by federal and state law – for the purpose of protecting workers. Yet union activities have long been the subject of observations that they operate in decidedly undemocratic ways. Unions, for example, are not normally required to let their members vote on contract modifications or ratifications. Because unions spend funds not only on the costs of representation but also on political lobbying, employees have a First Amendment right not to join union but instead to pay only the costs of representation. These “agency fee payers” have even fewer rights than do union members. While unions have been held to owe a duty of fair and impartial representation for all unit members, this right has been unevenly enforced at both the federal and state levels. A recent California case, Williams v. Pub. Employment Relations Bd., was the first to decide the question of whether a union, under its duty of fair representation, must permit agency fee payers to vote on whether to be furloughed. In deciding that voting was a benefit of union membership, the California Court of Appeals fell in line with the general “hands-off” judicial approach to the issue of union democracy. The article examines whether, in the university context raised in Williams, there is a financial benefit to workers to be represented by unions and concludes with an analysis of the judicial reluctance to mandate equal protection in union representation and the consequent rise in “right to work” legislation.

  • Labor unions,
  • democracy,
  • fair representation,
  • voting,
  • agency fee payers,
  • employment,
  • discrimination
Publication Date
Citation Information
Melanie Stallings Williams & Dennis A. Halcoussis, "Unions and Democracy: When Do Nonmembers Have Voting Rights?" 9 J. Bus. & Tech. L. 213 (2014). The SelectedWorks of Melanie S. Williams Available at: