Altoona Mirror: Profs Claim Employer Desire for “Open Shop” is Rare

According to a report in Sunday’s Altoona Mirror, some experts believe that the Altoona Regional Health System Board is taking a rare position in its desire that the recently certified nurse’s unit remain an open shop.

As a part of the ongoing negotiations there, the union is demanding an “agency shop,” in which members of the collective bargaining unit who are not union members would be forced as a condition of employment to pay to the union a representation fee equal to about 87 percent of the union dues. The hospital has denied this request, seeking instead an “open shop,” which would mean that employees would be free to join or not to join the union, and would not be forced to pay anything to the union if they do not join.

While I might agree with the various professors that an agency shop is not that unusual of a request and probably is more likely to be in an agreement than not, as a practitioner who represents employers in collective bargaining I can assure you that the desire of an employer to keep an open shop is not as rare as the professors seem to indicate.

The article does raise an important point, however, with respect to one common misconception. Many people mistakenly believe that because Pennsylvania is not a right-to-work state (meaning that there is no state law prohibiting agency shops or union shops, in which employees not only must pay the representation fee but also must join the union and pay full dues), an open shop is not possible. An open shop is very much possible, as you can see from the ARHS story, depending on how much the employer wishes to fight for it.

It will be interesting to see whether the ARHS Board continues to maintain its request for an open shop and to see whether the nurses in fact strike as threatened. We’ll keep an eye on it.

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