Do unions have to represent ALL workers in a given workplace?

During recent testimony before the House Business and Employment Committee dozens of union representatives asserted that unions are required to represent all workers in a given workplace. That statement was asserted again by Dr. Gordon Lafer, a political economist and a professor at the University of Oregon, in a recent interview with New Mexico Political Report (a project of ProgressNow). I also sat down with the New Mexico Political Report.

Unfortunately, the reality is that unions are not required to represent those who do not want to pay dues (as could be done in a “right to work” state). As James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation writes:

The law requires unions to represent nonmembers only if they negotiate as “exclusive bargaining representatives.”[13] That status lets them negotiate on behalf of all workers, union and nonunion alike. If they do so, the law requires unions to bargain fairly. They cannot selectively negotiate the minimum wage for nonmembers. But unions do not have to claim exclusive representative status; they could negotiate contracts covering only dues-paying members.

This was decided by the US Supreme Court in Consolidated Edison Co. v. National Labor Relations Bd. in 1938.

Separate laws relating to certain groups of government workers in New Mexico may apply (and could be addressed by the Legislature), but there’s no federal law forcing unions to represent those that don’t want to pay for their services.