Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Is God anti-union?

Thomas Ross, a security officer employed by Allied Universal in San Francisco, has filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC against Service Employees International Union officials and his employer for forcing him to join and financially support the union after he told both that his religious beliefs forbid union support.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, an employee can be forced to join a labor union and pay union dues whether or not he or she supports that union or any union. If, however, the employee happens to work in one of the 27 states with right to work laws, he or she cannot be forced to join or pay. California is not one of those states. Thus, Ross claims that his employer and the SEIU should have reasonably accommodated his sincerely held religious belief that union membership violates his Christian beliefs.

According to The Christian Post, Ross provided Bible verses to the union president and his employer in support of his religious accommodation request. Two weeks after his letter, the employer informed Ross that union membership was compulsory and deducted union fees from his paycheck. The discrimination charge followed.

I give Ross and the National Right to Work Foundation, which is representing him pro bono, bonus points for creativity. And, as we saw with Covid vaccine mandates, Title VII's definition of religion is broad and the scope of an employer's reasonable accommodation request is wide. 

The EEOC does not limit its definition of a religious belief, practice, or observance to those that are espoused by an actual religion. The EEOC's definition also includes moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. Moreover, per the EEOC the fact that no religious group actually espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a protected religious belief of the employee.

Title VII requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. An accommodation would pose an undue hardship if it would cause more than a de minimis cost on the operation of the business. Factors relevant to undue hardship may include the type of workplace, the nature of the employee's duties, the identifiable cost of the accommodation in relation to the size and operating costs of the employer, and the number of employees who will in fact need a particular accommodation. It seems to me that withholding union dues imposes "more than a de minimus cost," although at least one court has held that it violates Title VII to force a religious objector to pay union dues.

In other words, denying Ross the right to withhold union dues may or may not be illegal. The question isn't whether God is anti-union, but whether it's worth the legal risk and expense to an employer to test that theory in court by denying the accommodation request in the first place.