The Right to Employment Without Violating Your Conscience
Does associating with or financially supporting your union violate your religious beliefs?
If so, you have the right to redirect all of your union dues and fees to a charity.
What Is a Religious Objector?
The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects individuals from religious discrimination in the workplace. This means that unions (1) cannot discriminate against employees’ religious beliefs, and (2) must provide reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of the employees they represent. For employees whose religious beliefs are violated by their union or its activities, this includes the right to completely refrain from financially supporting the union.
To accommodate this right, Oregon law allows employees to become “religious objectors,” whereby they can resign formal union membership and redirect the full amount of their dues and fees to a charity.
Because public employees in Oregon are generally required to pay certain union fees as a condition of employment, a religious objector cannot simply keep the payments that would otherwise go to the union. However, becoming a religious objector can ensure that no portion of your fees are used in violation of your religious beliefs.
The decision to become a religious objector is appropriate when you feel that associating with your union is incompatible with your sincerely held religious beliefs. Before making a decision, determine the extent to which your beliefs are being violated. For example, some employees may be content with simply opting out of the portion of their dues that are used for the union’s explicitly political and ideological causes (becoming an “agency fee payer”), in which case they continue to pay a reduced fee to the union. Others feel this does not go far enough to satisfy their religious convictions and wish to end their association with the union entirely.
How Do I Object?
While a simple notice may legally be enough, it’s a good idea to write a more detailed letter and send it to both your employer and your local union president. The letter should explain the legitimate reasons for your objection and suggest possible charities to which your fees could be sent. It is important to keep in mind that the charity must be agreed-upon by the objector and the union, meaning religious charities are generally not accepted. It is also important that your letter honestly and accurately articulates your religious reasons for objecting, in case the union attempts to question your sincerity.
Your religious objection letter must be in your own words. Generally speaking, however, it may contain the following elements:
- Date, name of local union president, name and address of the local union.
- State that you have religious reasons for wishing to end your association with the union.
- Carefully explain why (1) your personally held religious beliefs and/or (2) the teachings of your church or religious organization will not allow you to continue associating with the union.
- Request that your religious beliefs be accommodated by paying the equivalent of your union dues and fees to an agreed-upon charity.
- Suggest two or three charities that you would like to see benefited by your payments.
- State that you will provide your employer with written proof of the charitable payments.
- Sign, date, and print your name and address.
Once completed, send the letter to your employer and your local union president. It’s a good idea to send it via certified mail or some other service that gives you proof of delivery.
You may want to have your letter reviewed by an expert in this area. Legal analysts at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have been willing to provide assistance and review drafts of letters for religious objectors in mandatory union workplaces. In addition, a publication from the nation’s leading expert in workplace rights for people of faith, Bruce Cameron, is available from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, An Employee’s Guide to Union Dues and Religious Do Nots.