Congratulations! If you are a Wisconsin public employee chances are that you are part of an historic event promoting employee freedom. This historic event is the passage of “Act 10.” Act 10 frees most public employees from being forced to join or financially support a labor union. You may have heard about litigation challenging the constitutionality of Act 10. The provisions of Act 10 repealing compulsory union fees have been upheld by the courts, although the battle for freedom continues. Act 10 has some exceptions and will be phased in over time. Act 10 does not apply to collective bargaining agreements entered into on or before June 29, 2011. The exceptions, involving some public safety and transit employees, are explained below.
Summary of Your Rights
1. Act 10 allows you to stop financially supporting an unwanted union. It gives you the choice whether or not to join and financially support a union. It’s now your choice, not the union’s or your employer’s.
2. Act 10 applies when a collective bargaining agreement in effect on or before June 29, 2011, expires, or is terminated, extended, modified or renewed, whichever occurs first. If your current, pre-June 30, 2011, contract contains a clause requiring union membership or payment of dues, that requirement will continue until the contract is terminated, extended, modified or renewed.
3. While waiting for your bargaining contract to expire or be modified, you have the right to resign your union membership and pay only the portion of union dues that is spent on bargaining-related activities. You can immediately stop supporting and paying for the union’s political and other nonbargaining activities. You can do this now.
Detailed Explanation of Your Rights
Q: What does the new Act 10 do?
A: In general, Act 10 changes the Wisconsin Municipal Employment Relations Act and the Wisconsin State Employment Labor Relations Act to alter the collective bargaining relationships between labor unions and Wisconsin public employers. Most of these changes, that do not concern individual employee rights, are not detailed here. The changes relevant to individual employee freedom that are currently in effect are as follows: a) the scope of union exclusive representation has been greatly reduced, returning part of the right of freedom of contract to individual employees; b) union membership is completely voluntary, including the payment of union dues or fees; no employee can be compelled to join or financially support the union.
Q: Are all Wisconsin public employees covered by Act 10?
A: No. Some public safety employees and municipal transit workers are excluded from coverage by Act 10. Unless you are part of the following description (taken from the Wisconsin government web site) you are covered by Act 10:
1. Wisconsin Municipal Employment Relations Act: any municipal employee who is employed in a position classified as a protective occupation participant who is a police officer, a fire fighter, a deputy sheriff, a county traffic police officer, a person employed by a village to provide police and fire protection services, or a comparable position under the provisions of a county (Milwaukee) or city (Milwaukee) retirement system;
2. Wisconsin State Employment Labor Relations Act: any member of the state traffic patrol or a state motor vehicle inspector; and,
3. Municipal transit workers.
If you have questions about whether you are covered by Act 10, contact the Foundation at 1-800-336-3600 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Q: Can I be completely free from all union representation?
A: Act 10 eliminates union representation and collective bargaining only for the following:
1. Faculty and academic staff of the University of Wisconsin System (UW System);
2. Employees of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; and,
3. Certified or licensed day care providers who are part of the state child care subsidy program or the Milwaukee County program.
Other public employees, not excluded from Act 10’s coverage, still can be subjected to monopoly bargaining by a union, albeit only with regard to “total base wages.”
Q: How will I know when Act 10 protects me?
A: Check your current contract’s expiration date. If your bargaining unit did not have a contract in effect on June 30, 2011, then you are now protected by Act 10, and no subsequent contract can require you to be a member or pay any dues or fees to the union. If your current collective bargaining agreement was in effect on June 29, 2011, then you become protected after it expires, or is terminated, extended, modified or renewed, whichever occurs first. No subsequent or renewed contract can require you to be a union member or pay union dues or fees as a condition of keeping your job.
Q: How does the current court litigation challenging Act 10 affect these rights?
A: As of April 24, 2012, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Act 10, and a federal district court upheld all of Act 10 except a provision requiring unions to stand for an annual election and a provision requiring public employee unions to collect their own dues. Whether the ruling on the election and payroll deduction of dues provisions will be reversed on appeal is not known. Contact the Foundation at 1-800-336-3600 or email@example.com for further information on the current status of the court litigation challenging Act 10.
Q: If the current contract in my bargaining unit was entered into on or before June 29, 2011, is there anything I can do now to reduce the amount of dues I am forced to pay the union?
A: Yes. Because Act 10 will take a few years to become fully effective, many Wisconsin public employees will not be able to cut off all dues immediately. However, all employees can still exercise their legal rights to refrain from formal union membership, and cut off union dues being spent on politics and other nonbargaining activities, and pay less than full union dues. Of course, the decision to resign and/or object is wholly yours.
Q: What happens if I resign my membership in the union?
A: You may not be able to participate in internal union elections or meetings, vote in collective bargaining ratification elections, or participate in other “internal” union activities. However, as a nonmember, you cannot be disciplined by the union for any post-resignation conduct. Furthermore, nonmembers are not subject to union rules, including those against working during a strike. (If you are a union member, and you work during a strike, the union could potentially fine you and sue you to collect that fine in state court.)
Even as a nonmember, you are still fully covered by whatever bargaining agreement is negotiated between your employer and the union. The union remains obligated to represent you with regard to disputes arising under the contract. Any benefits that are provided to you by your employer or pursuant to the bargaining contract will not be affected by your resignation. However, if the union offers some “members-only” benefits, you might be excluded from receiving those.
Q: How can I resign my membership in the union?
A: Send the union a written letter stating that you are resigning effective immediately. You should check your union’s constitution and bylaws to see if it has any provision specifying to whom a resignation must be submitted; such requirements have been upheld by courts. For general information on your rights to resign your union membership, click here, but follow these directions and use the letters suggested here for your specific right to resign your union membership in Wisconsin.
Q: How can I stop paying for the union’s political and other nonbargaining activities?
A: Until Act 10 becomes effective for you, you can assert your right, as a nonmember, not to pay for the union’s political and other nonbargaining activities by notifying the union in writing that you object to the use of your money for purposes other than collective bargaining and contract administration. You should check with the union to see if it has a policy concerning when and to whom nonmembers’ objections to the union fees should be submitted. For general information on your rights to object to the payment of dues for politics and other nonbargaining activities, click here, but follow these directions and use the letters suggested here.
Q: What if I’m paying my dues directly to the union and not through payroll deduction?
A: Click here for a sample letter to use to resign your union membership and object to paying full dues. Once Wisconsin’s Act 10 becomes effective for you, you should stop paying the union dues or fees directly to the union.
Q: What do I need to do once Act 10 becomes effective for me?
A: As a nonmember, you then have the right to cut off all payments to the union. You may become a nonmember simply by resigning your union membership. If you remain a voluntary union member, Act 10 does not prohibit you from being required to pay full dues as a condition of voluntary membership in the union.
The Foundation neither encourages nor discourages you from resigning, objecting, or eliminating the union from your workplace. Those decisions are yours alone. The Foundation is simply explaining your legal rights in light of Wisconsin’s new Act 10.