THE ISSUE: Union dues “check off” cards contain cleverly worded fine print, drafted by union lawyers, that can lock employees into paying dues for up to one year or longer. This fine print may be legally enforceable, even if you work in a Right to Work (RTW) state. Even worse, these irrevocable one year periods roll over, in perpetuity, for successive one year periods, unless the employee revokes the card in writing during a narrow, once-per-year “window period” lasting as short as ten days. Don’t sign these “check off” cards without reading the fine print and without knowing the exact terms of what you are signing!

THE EXPLANATION: Employers and unions in RTW states cannot negotiate compulsory dues payment clauses in collective bargaining contracts. Therefore, employees in RTW states cannot be required to join a union or pay any dues or fees as a condition of employment. Any payments an employee in a RTW state makes to a union must be completely voluntary and cannot be required by his or her employer.

However, unions in RTW states can still negotiate with employers to allow a “voluntary” dues check off system, in which employees who choose to be union members and dues payers can voluntarily authorize their employer to deduct dues from their salary. Once a union secures an employer’s agreement to operate a payroll deduction system for employees who authorize union dues withdrawals from their salaries, the union tries to convince all employees to sign “voluntary” dues check off cards.

The problem arises from the fine print most union check off cards contain: they lock the employee into paying dues for irrevocable one year periods, even if the employee changes his or her mind and resigns from the union (which can be done at any time).

Here are examples of common terms in union dues check off cards that limit when the authorization for payroll deduction can be revoked:

SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East: “This authorization shall remain in effect for one year,…and be automatically renewed for periods of one year, from the date signed below…I can [only] revoke this authorization by sending written notice by certified mail to my employer and the union not more than 20 days and not less than 10 days before the expiration of the yearly period…”

Teamsters: “This authorization shall be irrevocable for a period of one (1) year from the date I sign it, until I can timely choose another membership status,…and it shall continue in effect thereafter unless I withdraw this authorization in writing to the employer and the local union within the two (2) week period immediately preceding the end of any such period.”

Dues check off cards used by almost every union contain similar language limiting when workers can stop dues deductions. In most cases, this purposefully confusing language is legally binding and enforceable, even if you work in a RTW state and resign your union membership.

CONCLUSION: Know what you are signing, read it carefully, and don’t fall for any promises about being able to change your mind at some later date. If you sign one of these dues check off cards, it is highly likely that you will be stuck paying dues for a year (or more), even if you change your mind.

If you have questions about a dues check off card you signed or have been asked to sign, you can request advice from a Foundation lawyer here.