Ann E. Ahrens


"Free rider" problems plague any group or association that provides general benefits for its participants. Members may pay a fee, but nonmembers can reap the benefits without expenditure. Labor unions address this disparity through the use of agency shop fees contained in collective bargaining agreements. These fee agreements call for those employees who choose not to join the union to pay their share of the costs of collective bargaining. Labor unions have developed extensive mechanisms in order to calculate the amount of the fee. Employees, who do not want to subsidize activities they do not support, can file complaints with the union to protest the calculation and collection of the agency fee. In order to protect the interests of the objecting nonmember, the United States Supreme Court ordered unions to develop internal remedies, usually in the form of arbitration, to address these complaints. This Casenote addresses the effect of a union's arbitration remedy for agency fee complaints on an employee's right to pursue judicial remedies of his claim. The union argues that if it must develop the internal remedy, it should be allowed to insist that workers pursue it before seeking a judicial remedy. Prior to the instant decision, the Supreme Court had not taken up the issue. However, six federal circuits have addressed this question. Four circuits held that workers were not required to pursue the union remedy first.' Two circuits sided with the union and required exhaustion of the union's remedy before pursuit in court.' Certiorari was granted in this case to provide a definitive answer to this issue.



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