On March 11, 2020, flight attendant Ali Bahreman filed a federal lawsuit against Allegiant Air and Transport Workers Union of America Local 577 (TWU) for illegally levying punishment against him for his refusal to pay union dues or fees.
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys stepped up to the plate to defend Bahreman and filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on March 2, 2020. It argues that because the Railway Labor Act (RLA) does not let businesses and union officials enforce “union security” agreements except by firing an employee, Allegiant and TWU were in violation of the law by getting rid of his “bidding” privileges, which allow him to control his work schedule.
Bahreman opted to not become a member of TWU or pay forced union dues, and on September 3, 2019, Allegiant informed him that his bidding privileges were waived because he had not paid any union fees. Bidding privileges let flight attendants pick their schedule in order to plan preferred trips, vacations, and days off. As a result of this, Bahreman can no longer choose what hours he wants to work and has very little control over his schedule.
The lawsuit accuses Allegiant and TWU of unlawfully punishing Bahreman by removing his bidding privileges, which is a violation of the RLA’s requirement for what constitutes a lawful forced dues clause. The lawsuit contends that under the RLA, firing workers is the only way that unions and employers are able to carry out “union security” agreements. As a result, the discipline carried out against Bahreman is unlawful.
The monopoly bargaining agreement between TWU and Allegiant spells out that any employee who refuses to pay union fees will “lose all of her/his bidding privileges.” But the RLA states that unions and employers are only allowed to enter agreements “as a condition of continued employment.” The RLA is clear in its language that other punishments are not permitted.
Foundation staff attorneys are petitioning the Court to restore Bahreman’s bidding privileges, rule that the monopoly bargaining agreement between Allegiant and TWU is a breach of the RLA, and prevent TWU and Allegiant from carrying out the unlawful “union security” agreement.
Although Bahreman resides in Nevada which is a Right to Work state protecting workers against paying forced dues as a condition of employment, the RLA preempts state Right to Work laws. This means that even in states where union payments are strictly voluntary for all other workers, railway and airline employees covered by the RLA can still be forced to pay mandatory union fees.
“Workers shouldn’t have to worry about losing essential privileges in their workplace or have to fear losing their job for simply choosing not to support union bosses with their hard-earned money,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “That the Railway Labor Act prevents state Right to Work laws from protecting workers from forced union dues is a significant reason why a National Right to Work law is needed to ensure all workers have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to fund a labor union.”
“Perhaps Allegiant Airlines understood that forcing a worker to pay union fees or else be fired is just plain wrong, which is why they resisted union demands for a full forced dues clause and instead settled on this ultimately unlawful provision,” observed Mix. “Having apparently recognized that forced dues are unfair to workers, the airline should just abandon the illegal provision at the center of this lawsuit and not replace it with anything so every employee covered by the contract is fully free to decide whether or not to financially support the union.”