• Enforceability of Dues Check Off Provision a Minor Dispute Under the RLA
  • April 14, 2004
  • Law Firm: Ford & Harrison LLP - Atlanta Office
  • A federal court in Minnesota has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Professional Flight Attendants Association (PFAA) against Northwest Airlines, seeking the court to compel Northwest to deduct union dues from employees who had signed a dues check off agreement form. See Professional Flight Attendants Association v. Northwest Airlines. The court held that this issue is a minor dispute under the RLA and must be submitted to arbitration.

    In this case, Northwest flight attendants had been represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between Northwest and the IBT, the company deducted union dues and fees from the flight attendants' pay, which it remitted to the union. In June 2003, the flight attendants elected the PFAA as their collective bargaining representative. PFAA asked Northwest to deduct union dues from the flight attendants' pay as it had when the IBT was the flight attendants' collective bargaining representative; however, Northwest refused to do so, relying on a "drop dead" provision in the CBA. This provision states that the dues check off provision is in force only so long as the IBT represents the flight attendants. Accordingly, Northwest argued that it had no obligation to continue to deduct union dues after the PFAA became the flight attendants' representative.

    The PFAA sued Northwest, asking the court to require Northwest to continue to deduct union dues from the flight attendants' pay. The court held that this dispute is a minor dispute that must be resolved in arbitration and dismissed the case. The court found that Northwest's argument was justified by the plain language of the CBA and was neither frivolous nor arguably insubstantial. The court rejected the union's argument that Northwest's failure to honor the dues check off provision violated the NMB's long-standing position that a change in union representation does not alter or cancel any existing agreement made on behalf of employees by their previous representative. Relying on a case by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court held that honoring the drop dead clause of the CBA honored the agreement as negotiated by the prior representative. Not doing so, however, would violate the principles announced by the NMB.

    If the union does not appeal this decision, it has indicated that it will file for arbitration.