Flight Attendant Sues Her Union To Stop Paying Dues

One Muslim flight attendant for an airline that’s shut down during Covid-19 wants the Supreme Court to let her sue because crewmembers were required to serve drinks to passengers and she wasn’t given a religious exemption from doing so.

Now another flight attendant is claiming a religious exemption, this time arguing that as a Christian she shouldn’t be required to pay union dues. The union offered to let her direct her dues to charity from April 2019 onward, but not exempt her from prior dues.

Compulsory union membership is illegal in 28 states (‘Right to Work’ laws) where paying union dues cannot be required as a condition of employment. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in Janus vs AFSCME that government workers could not be compelled to pay union dues as a condition of employment either. However airline employees are not government employees, and state labor laws don’t trump the Railway Labor Act. And so compulsory union membership, when a majority of a work group have opted for one, remains in place for flight attendants and other aviation workers.

If compulsory union dues are forced speech, as the Court has suggested, and the federal government were to require airline unions that would indeed be legally problematic. However there are largely non-union airlines like Delta. The flight attendant plaintiff in this case chose to work for Allegiant, but began work there before a union contract was in place (though after flight attendants had voted to unionize). It’s unclear how unions are un-Christian, and thus how compulsory unionism violates a sincerely held religious belief as claimed here.

The contention appears to be,

  • Stating a religious objection is sufficient and neither the employer nor union should be able to inquire further or contest it

  • The Railway Labor Act does permit requiring union membership for continued employment but the flight attendant here was never going to be fired – just not allowed to bid for a schedule. As a result the RLA doesn’t come into play and shouldn’t trump the state Right to Work law where the flight attendant lives.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated an earlier complaint, was unable to resolve it, but found sufficient merit to issue a “Right to Sue” letter so the federal government has found some merit in the arguments thus far. Winning this case would represent an existential threat to airline unions. It seems a long shot, however.

(HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The only good union in this world is UNION ALL in SQL

    Labor unions suck D (nickname for Richard)

    Time to abolish them like Covid

  2. Unions helped us gain a quality of life. Religion? What a litigious society we are? During the hiring process is this not made clear to candidates?

  3. A “right to sue” letter doesn’t indicate any evidence of actual legal violations. If anything it indicates the opposite. If the government had found clear evidence of discrimination, EEOC would issue a letter with its findings. The “right to sue” letter is simply the default when there aren’t clear violations.

  4. Given the ruling by SCOTUS with respect to federal unions (along with any other issues that may be raised related to right to work states, religious objections, etc) if this case makes it to the Supreme Court the ruling will almost certainly be that employees of airlines unions can not be compelled to pay dues.

    The sooner the better IMHO

  5. At one time if you were over a certain age you could not continue flying, also not married.
    Blacks were not hired, acted to gay in your interview…no job
    Hotels, females had to group together. Pilots had single rooms & were picked up at airport.
    Flight attendants were on their own finding rooms.
    Pilots had food on flights, no for F/A’s.
    Unions fought for all these issues that are automatically taken for granted today.

  6. Gary, I have a friend who worked at EEOC and is now with a US Atty’s office civil division. She has done numerous discrimination suits. Even if they _can_ issue something other than an affirmative determination or a Right to Sue Letter, they really don’t. Maybe they do if someone isn’t even alleging discrimination against a protected class in their charge to the agency.

  7. @Autolycus – they absolutely do, they can find a claim meritless and not issue that letter, at least based on the issues I’ve dealt with and labor lawyers I’ve engaged.

  8. I wonder if regional offices have different practices there. I’ve known about some very absurd situations where the person got a right to sue letter with no facts supporting them at all, aside from the employee being in a protected class. By absurd I mean that there were emails from the employees refusing to do incredibly basic job functions as directed or even refusing to show up for work at all for weeks at a time, while still expecting to be paid. EEOC has those emails.

  9. Many unions support or contribute to the Democratic Party and/or Democratic candidates for political office.
    Though there are increasingly rare exceptions nearly all Democratic candidates for political office, especially the US House/Senate as well as Presidential Candidates support the retention of abortion on demand.
    Many Christian churches, denominations and sects teach and hold to the belief that abortion is murder and therefore sinful and immoral.
    Therefore to allow dues money to go to such a candidate or to even be part of an organisation such as a labour union that supports such a candidate would also be sinful.

  10. The EEOC is usually a waste of money and red tape. They almost never take on a case. If they do, sometimes it’s because the issue infringes on the EEOC’s power so they’re fighting for themselves, not the small person. Furthermore, the statute of limitations is short, just 180 days. This 180 day limit has probably hurt more people than the EEOC has helped.

    Some say that Bernie Sanders would have started Legal Medicaid where low income m.j people would have the right to a free lawyer to sue anyone they wanted, landlord, store, airline, etc. I don’t believe that would have passed the Senate, though the House probably would pass such legislation.

  11. Recently I retired after a twenty year career with a major US airline. Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows for an employee who finds a conflict between their sincere religious beliefs and the requirement that they join or financially support a labor union to be excluded from union membership or paying dues to the union. After my probation period ended at the airline at which point I would be required to join the union I contacted a right to work organization in the Washington, DC area to assist me in pursuing not having to join the union due to my sincere religious beliefs. That is the wording used in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Religious beliefs cannot be used frivolously. I was required to fly to the EEOC Headquarters in Washington DC for a hearing where I was represented by my Right to Work counsel to present my case to the Labor Union’s counsel. I was required to clearly present my case to the EEOC Representatives my objections to union membership as it relates to my sincere religious beliefs. I presented clear biblical arguments I felt conflicted with being a union member.
    It should be pointed out I was not trying to avoid paying union dues. I was well aware that if the EEOC signed off on my case I would be required to pay the full amount of dues to a charity agreeable to me and the union.
    The hearing was friendly, amicable and non-combative. The ruling was in my favor. I did not seek any publicity nor did I urge my flying partners to seek this protection from paying dues to the union. To the best of my knowledge I was the lone flight attendant flying for one of the big three U.S. airlines who did not belong to a union.

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