Firefighter Union Members Potentially Subject To Fines For ‘Dual Unionism’

Prior to 2005, employees of the Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust (MAST) in Missouri were represented by Local I-34 of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). In 2005, the IAFF President ordered the merger of Local I-34 into Local 42. The merger resulted in litigation that led to a court-ordered settlement. Employees of MAST were told they had the option to be “nonmembers” of the union, but would still be obligated to pay a monthly union service fee. As of 2005, the fee was to be 71.46% of the full union dues rates, or $35.72 per month.

Lawrence Jones began working for MAST in 1979. In September 1980, he joined IAFF, signing a dues and payroll deduction authorization card. After Local I-34 was merged with Local 42, Jones became president and a founding member of a new union, the Emergency Medical Service Workers (EMSW). Jones stated the purpose of EMSW was to decertify Local 42 as the exclusive bargaining agent for the employees of MAST. Timothy Moon, another Local 42 member, served as a steward of EMSW and admitted that its purpose was to form its own representation for employees of MAST. Joseph Robinette, another Local 42 member, was also involved in the establishment of EMSW.

As a result of EMSW’s activities, the President of Local 42 filed internal charges against 11 MAST employees, including Moon, Jones, and Robinette. The charges alleged that the 11 Mast Employees violated the IAFF Constitution “by advocating and encouraging members of IAFF Local 42 to decertify IAFF Local 42 in favor of EMSW” as a rival union and “by purporting to be supporters, members and/or leaders of EMSW.”

An IAFF Trial Board issued a decision finding the MAST Employees guilty of the charges. It concluded that Local 42 had incurred $97,025.33 in expenses in defending against the EMSW and ordered each of the 11 charged members to pay $8,820.48. Local 42 then filed a petition in court against the MAST Employees seeking enforcement of the fines.

The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the ability of the IAFF to impose fines. The Court found that “the MAST Employees were not required to be members of the union and thus chose to be bound by the IAFF Constitution and bylaws. The agreement between Local 42 and MAST clearly provides for employees to opt out of core membership. In fact, subsequent to the events at issue, both Robinette and Jones chose to withdraw from the union.

“A provision such as this permitting an employee to opt out of union membership though still requiring a pro rata fee is known as a fair share provision. Fair share provisions do not compel or coerce union membership, but rather address the problem of free riders by requiring an employee to pay for a proportionate share of the benefits of the union’s collective representation of the employees.

“Consequently, because of their union membership, the MAST Employees were contractually bound to abide by the IAFF Constitution and bylaws and agreed to its internal disciplinary procedures. Unions may validly impose discipline of their members and due to the contractual nature of the relationship, the courts will enforce those measures, provided they are reasonable.”

The MAST employees argued that their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, association, and assembly were violated by the fines. The Court disagreed, finding that “because the case does not involve actions by the state or federal government, the fines are not governed by the Constitution. We find no basis for the MAST Employee’s assertion that Local 42 is a state actor. Union actions taken pursuant to the organization’s own internal governing rules and regulations are not state actions, absent some other aspect of the relationship that would turn generally private conduct into state action such as the union acting in collusion with the state employer, or with powers delegated to it by the state.”

The Court did find that a retrial was necessary to establish whether the fines were reasonable: “For the fines to be reasonable, Local 42 was required to show that it sustained damages in the amounts of the fines assessed by the trial board. In the circumstances of this case, we cannot find that Local 42 was entitled to entry of summary judgment of $8,820.48 against each MAST Employee. The charges against the MAST Employees alleged that they violated the IAFF Constitution from June 26, 2006, through September 22, 2006. However, the fines levied against them appear to represent expenses incurred by the union both before and after these dates. Second, it appears that Jones and Robinette were assessed fines for Local 42’s expenses after they withdrew from Local 42 membership by opting to pay the service fee in lieu of membership. Local 42 bears the burden of establishing the justification for enforcing these fines as a contractual matter when Jones and Robinette were no longer parties to the contract. We find this troubling when their subsequent non-membership provided the basis for IAFF’s refusal to consider their internal appeals. We remand to the trial court for determination as to whether the fines are reasonable and supported by sufficient evidence.”

International Ass’n of Fire Fighters v. Moon, 2012 WL 370585 (Mo. App. W.D. 2012).