Union: Whether To Join

The union: should you join it or not. That decision is a perplexing one. If you are a regular member of a band or orchestra that works under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), there are a number of reasons why you should join. However, the choice is yours.

A CBA refers to a binding, written contract between the union and your employer under which the union is the sole collective bargaining representative of all the musicians who are performers or librarians in that group. The exclusive bargaining representative deals with the employer over wages, working conditions, grievances and all other matters relating to your employment.

Most contracts contain what is known as a union security provision that appears to require that you become a member of the union within 30 days after your employment begins or forfeit your employment. Union members are obligated to pay dues to the union. However, that clause is unenforcible by law. (More about that later.)

If you choose NOT to become a member, you may still be required to pay your pro rata share of the union's cost of representing all the employees who work with you. Generally, the union's dues are more than it needs to carry out its duty to fairly represent you. That excess money is used for a variety of things including political lobbying that you may object to.

The problem with not becoming a member of the union is that you will be lawfully excluded from: attending union meetings, voting in union elections of officers and ratifying the union contract. For that reason alone, it is worthwhile to join the union.

If you DO become a member of the union, you are entitled to all the rights and obligations of union membership. You will also be subject to union discipline.

Regardless of your decison, you will be entitled to all the wages, working conditions and benefits the union bargains for the group you are in. The decision is YOURS ALONE to make.

Earlier, you read about the CBA's union security provision not actually requiring you to become a union member even though the contract says that you must, or lose your job. That is a complex legal issue that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case entitled Marquez v. Screen Actors Guild.

Defying conventional logic, the Court said that the standard union security provision in a CBA was a "term of art" that everyone now knew didn't mean what it actually said. At the beginning of its decision, it described what that "term of art" actually meant. Since very few employees read and understand the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, its convoluted reasoning is unique in the annals of the law.

To read this U.S. Supreme Court decision, which is not based upon a single precedent, but was a political rather than a legal opinion, click on the link below.

Marquez Case Link