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The Difference Between Fair Share & Union Dues

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A labor union consists of an unincorporated association that tries to equalize the bargaining power between employees and employers on matters like wages and work hours. Whether you’re considering entering an apprenticeship program offered by a union or seeking a job with an existing union, you have to pay dues. To support a labor union, you have two payment options: fair share or union dues. Each option has benefits and disadvantages.

Union Membership

Once a business becomes unionized, its employees become members of the union. Thus, the union becomes a representative negotiating employment contracts with the employer on its members’ behalf. An employee, however, doesn’t have to become a member of a union. Federal law prohibits a union from forcing an employee to join or maintain a membership status to work. For instance, if you work at a janitorial service an employer or union can’t fire you because you don’t want to become a member.

Union Dues

Union dues consist of money deducted from your check according to the union contract. The money covers your membership. The union dues also cover benefits provided by the union. For instance, if you have a problem with your employer you can request a union representative to work on your behalf to settle the dispute.

Fair Share

Although opting out of joining the union prohibits you from paying union dues, you still have a financial responsibility. As an employee of a unionized business, some unions require you to pay your “fair share” to the union. A fair share is an exact fee paid by a nonunion member. An employer deducts the fair share fee out of each paycheck like it would if you were paying union dues. Paying a fair share fee funds the union. Typically, a fair share fee is a percentage of union dues.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that any employee paying a fair share fee couldn’t be charged for specific things. For example, it can’t use your money for political union activities such as lobbying. Also, a union can’t use fair share fees to pay for litigation expenses not related to collective bargaining, public relations efforts or to secure public funds. Union dues, however, can be used for any or all of those purposes. When paying a fair share fee, the union may have to provide you with information on how the fair share monies were spent. You may have to provide written notice that you don’t want to join or continue your union membership.


Demetrius Sewell is an experienced journalist who, since 2008, has been a contributing writer to such websites as Internet Brands and print publications such as "Cinci Pulse." Sewell specializes in writing news and feature articles on health, law and finance. She has a master's degree in English.

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