State Commission Affirms Employees’ Rights to Leave Unions, Stop Paying Dues for Politics at Any Time
Decisions struck down union “window period” policies that restricted employees’ rights to leave unions, opt out of dues
Detroit, MI (January 22, 2016) – In two recent cases, the Michigan Employee Relations Commission (MERC) has affirmed the right of Michigan employees to leave a union and stop paying dues for union politics at any time. Both cases were brought by public school employees who received free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.
In the case of Mark Norgan, a Standish-Sterling Community Schools employee, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) union insisted that he could only leave the union during an annual 30 day window period. James Cottrell, a Lenawee Intermediate School District employee, was told by Teamsters Local 214 officials that he had to notify them during a 15 day window period if he wished to opt out of dues for union politics.
These cases were only possible because of the right to refrain amendments included in Michigan’s Right to Work laws. Both have important implications for nonunion workers who are still subject to forced-dues contracts agreed to by their employers and unions before the 2012 labor reforms went into effect. Although Michigan’s Right to Work laws prohibit union contracts that require nonunion employees to belong to a union or pay union dues or fees, contracts entered into before the laws went into effect remain in force until they expire.
Consequently, many Michigan employees can still be required to pay union dues to get or keep a job. However, long-standing Supreme Court precedents hold that no employee can be required to join a union or pay dues for activities unrelated to workplace bargaining, such as union politics. Both Norgan and Cottrell attempted to exercise their rights to leave their respective unions and stop paying full union dues. In Norgan’s case, MEA officials denied his request to resign his union membership because he missed an arbitrary annual window period. In Cottrell’s case, Teamster officials used a spurious 15 day window period requirement to force him to continue paying dues for union politics.
The MERC’s decisions affirm the right of any Michigan employee, even those still subject to forced-dues contracts, to leave a union at any time and opt out of dues for union politics.
“Thanks to Michigan’s 2012 labor reforms, most Michigan employees can no longer be forced to pay any dues at all to a labor union,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “However, many Michigan workers still labor under forced-dues contracts that were grandfathered under the Right to Work laws.”
“Although those workers can still be forced to pay some union dues, they cannot be required to formally join a union or pay dues for union politics,” continued Mix. “We’ll continue to fight for the rights of these employees until every forced-dues contract in the state has expired and all Michigan workers enjoy the benefits of their state’s Right to Work laws.”