If you do not join a union in the United States, you can opt out of paying full union dues. Depending on where you work and your industry, you may still have to pay a portion of what a member pays. In some cases, however, you can eliminate this portion by changing the contract.
Right-to-Work States and Industries
In certain states, laws protect the rights of most employees to choose to join or not join a union. As of this article's publication, 22 states, including Texas and Virginia, have such laws, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. In a right-to-work state, your employer or union cannot insist you join or pay union dues or fees, with certain exceptions.
Even in the right-to-work states, those working for the railroads or airlines do not have exemption from compulsory union fees. Other workers who usually are not exempt include those working on federal property, such as in the District of Columbia.
If you do not have right-to-work benefits, your employer's contract can require you to pay the union's agency fees, even as a nonmember. The agency fees represent the portion of union dues which covers the cost of negotiating the contract. You pay because you benefit from the contract. However, under the National Labor Relations Act, your employer cannot insist you join the union or pay other union expenses, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
According to the National Right to Work organization, nonmembers cannot be charged for union activities related to lobbying, politics or ideology. They cannot be charged for expenses related to illegal strikes. They also cannot be charged for any expenses for benefits that accrue only to union members. They cannot even be charged for the expense of publishing articles relating to any of these activities.
You must be a union nonmember to opt out of the non-chargeable portion of membership costs. If a member, you must resign and inform the union that you do not want to pay the non-allowed portion. The union must by law tell you how much of the total membership cost represents dues for non-chargeable expenses and how much represents the agency fee that you must pay.
Changing the Contract
If at least 30 percent of employees request it by petition, the National Labor Relations Board will have them vote in secret whether to remove forced union membership from the contract. This is called a deauthorization election. If the group in favor of removal gets a majority, then union membership becomes optional, and non-members do not have to pay either dues or agency fees. The vote does not change any other clauses in the employment agreement.