Air Line Pilots Association v. Miller

PETITIONER: Air Line Pilots Association
LOCATION: National Endowment for the Arts

DOCKET NO.: 97-428
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 866 (1998)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1998
DECIDED: May 26, 1998

Jerry D. Anker - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Raymond J. LaJeunesse, Jr. - Argued the cause for the respondents
Raymond J. LaJeunesse - for respondents

Facts of the case

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a private-sector labor organization, represents pilots employed by Delta Air Lines. The collective-bargaining agreement between ALPA and Delta includes an "agency shop" clause that requires nonunion Delta pilots to pay ALPA a monthly service charge for representing them. 153 Delta pilots challenged in federal-court action the manner in which ALPA calculated agency fees. Under ALPA policy pilots who object to the fee calculation may request arbitration proceedings. When 174 Delta pilots filed objections to the agency-fee calculation, the ALPA treated the objections as requests for arbitration. The arbitrator sustained ALPA's calculation. The District Court concluded that the pilots seeking to challenge the fee calculation must exhaust arbitral remedies before proceeding in court. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court. It found no legal basis for requiring objectors to arbitrate agency-fee challenges when they had not agreed to do so.


Must the nonunion pilots go through arbitration before going to court to challenge the fees they are required to pay to the union under the "agency-shop" agreement?

Media for Air Line Pilots Association v. Miller

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1998 in Air Line Pilots Association v. Miller

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 97-428, Air Line Pilots Association v. Robert Miller.

Mr. Anker, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Jerry D. Anker:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Section 211 of the Railway Labor Act permits unions and employers to enter into what are you called agency, shop, or similar forms of union security agreements.

Under an agency shop agreement, represented employees are not required to become union members, but they are required to support the union financially through the payment of the equivalent of union dues, initiation fees, and assessments.

However, in a line of cases stretching back now more than 35 years, this Court has said that a union may not use such an agreement to require objecting nonmembers to pay for union activities that are political and ideological in nature or are otherwise unrelated to the collective bargaining function.

In 1986, in Chicago Teacher's Union v. Hudson, the Court went one step further and held that unions must provide three procedural safeguards to ensure that objectors' funds will not be spent improperly, and those safeguards are, first a notice containing an adequate explanation of how the fee is calculated, second, a reasonably prompt opportunity to challenge the fee before an impartial decisionmaker, and third, an escrow for the amounts reasonably in dispute while those challenges are pending.

The issue in this case is whether employees who wish to challenge the fee that they're being charged must present their claim to that impartial decisionmaker before bringing any kind of a lawsuit.

This case arose in November of 1991, when the Airline Pilots Association, or ALPA, as we called it, entered into an agency shop agreement with Delta Airlines, very much like the agency shop agreements ALPA has with most of the country's airlines.

Before the agreement even became effective, five Delta pilots, later joined by about 150 intervenors, filed a lawsuit to enjoin implementation of that agreement.

They had many grounds for their lawsuit, but for present purposes the only one that's relevant here was the allegation that ALPA does not, or does charge objectors improperly for activities which are outside the scope of collective bargaining.

Now, ALPA has written procedures in compliance with the Hudson decision that include an impartial decisionmaker for the purpose of resolving such disputes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Anker--

Jerry D. Anker:


Sandra Day O'Connor:

--would you mind telling me as a practical matter how these fee challenges typically come up?

Are they usually brought to challenge the amount of past payments, or are they typically prospective in nature?

How does the union notify people--

Jerry D. Anker:

You're talking about specifically--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--of the breakdown?

Jerry D. Anker:

--in our case?

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Well, the typical situation.

Jerry D. Anker:

All right.

I think, Your Honor, the procedures vary from union to union.

The way it works in ALPA is the following way.

The books are closed... we're on an annual year basis, so that the books are closed at the end of each year and then there is a general audit of the books, and in connection with that audit, or once that audit is completed, then a statement is prepared and that statement itself is also audited, setting forth the germane and nongermane expenses, the major categories, which is essentially our Hudson notice.

At that point, any--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Usually there's been some prospective estimates.

Jerry D. Anker:

--That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So that they're not charged the full amount.