Unions have a federal duty of fair representation, which means among other things that they must fully and fairly represent even those bargaining unit members who elect not to join the union. Representing the whole bargaining unit takes time, energy, and money. So, unions fight for contract clauses that will prevent freeloading. LSSA has such a clause.
Unlike actors or welders for example, LSSA does not have a “closed shop” contract that requires us to be union members before we are hired. Nor do we have a “union shop” agreement that requires us to join the union and stay in it once we do become employees. On the other hand, we do not have an “open shop” contract that allows some co-workers to share the benefits without sharing the obligations.
LSSA has an “agency shop” agreement. New hires must agree (by signing a check-off form within thirty days) to help pay the union’s costs in representing the bargaining unit, but they need not join the union. The amount collected (2% of salary, per Art. V, Sec. 1 of the LSSA bylaws) and the means of collection (by payroll deduction) are the same for members and nonmembers alike, just as the services provided are the same. However, the money paid by members is called “dues,” and what nonmembers pay is called an “agency fee.”
Even though dues and agency fees involve the same payments for the same services, there is one very important difference. Union members collectively decide — directly and through their elected representatives — how much will be collected, how it will be spent, what we will fight for, when we will strike, and a host of other important issues that impact directly on all of us. Nonmembers have neither voice nor vote in these matters.