Supreme Court turns aside union member's appeal on dues

April 28, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Labor union members who object to some of the political causes and candidates their leaders support lost out yesterday in a plea to the Supreme Court for the right to hold back part of their dues.

The court, without comment, turned aside the appeal of a Marylander, Kathryn A. Kidwell of Greenbelt, seeking to gain for union members the same option that non-union workers have to protest use of their dues for causes they do not favor.

Ms. Kidwell, 46, is a secretary in the sales and marketing department of Amtrak at Union Station here. She said she was "disappointed but not surprised" that the justices passed up her unusual challenge.

For years the Supreme Court has protected workers who are not members of unions from having to pay full dues to the unions that represent them when the dues are used for something other than the costs of bargaining. President Bush attempted to inject the issue into this year's presidential campaign recently by issuing an executive order that requires unions to notify those workers of their rights.

The court has said that those workers have a First Amendment right not to be allied, through their dues payments, with causes to which they object. Thus, the court has required unions to let non-members pay lower dues and get refunds if their money is used for anything other than bargaining expenses.

After one of those earlier Supreme Court decisions, Ms. Kidwell and three other Amtrak employees sued to complain that the Transportation Communications Union was refusing to refund dues spent on lobbying and other non-bargaining expenses.

A U.S. District Court in Baltimore had ruled that Ms. Kidwell, even though a member, had a right under both the First Amendment and federal railway labor law not to support the union's non-bargaining expenses through her dues.

The union took the dispute on to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which ruled in favor of the union in November. That court said that Ms. Kidwell voluntarily belongs to the union -- a conclusion she disputes -- and that the union thus was entitled to spend her dues for the causes it preferred, not the ones that she necessarily would favor. If she does not like the leadership's choices, the Court of Appeals said, she could leave the union.

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