Congratulations on being employed in the newest Right to Work (“RTW”) state. This special notice is intended to inform all Kentucky employees of their rights under this important new law.
Summary of Your Rights
1. Kentucky’s RTW law allows you to stop being a member of the union and stop paying any dues, fees, or other financial support to an unwanted union. It’s your choice, not the union’s or your employer’s, whether to join or financially support a union.
2. The Kentucky RTW law applies to collective bargaining contracts entered into, extended, or renewed on or after January 7, 2017. If you are subject to a contract in effect before January 7, 2017, you can be compelled to either pay union dues as a union member or fees as a nonmember until that contract expires or is renewed or extended. Even if you are subject to a contract in effect before January 7, 2017, nonmembers have the right to object to a portion of those fees and pay reduced fees until the RTW law is effective for you.
Detailed Explanation of Your Rights
Q: What does the new Kentucky Right to Work law do?
A: It frees you from having to join or financially support a labor union as a condition of employment. Under prior law, you could be forced to pay union dues or fees to keep your job. Once the new RTW law becomes effective for you, you will have the right to be a nonmember and not pay anything to a union.
Q: Are all employees covered by Kentucky’s RTW law?
A: Kentucky’s RTW law applies to most workers, but it does not apply to federal employees, employees of airlines or railroads, or those working on property subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction. Federal employees already have Right to Work protection from existing federal law. To see the actual language protecting federal employees, click here. Although railroad and airline employees and those working on exclusive federal enclaves cannot be required to join a union, they may be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. If you are an airline or railroad employee, click here for an explanation of your rights. If you work on federal property for a private-sector employer and do not know whether the property is subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction, call the Foundation at 1-800-336-3600 for further information.
Q: When will I enjoy the protections of the RTW law?
A: The RTW law applies to collective bargaining contracts entered into, extended, or renewed on or after the law’s effective date, which is January 7, 2017. In other words, beginning January 7, 2017, unions and employers in Kentucky cannot enter into any agreement that requires that employees join a union or pay union fees as a condition of their employment.
However, the RTW law does not affect union collective bargaining agreements that were in effect before January 7, 2017. Individuals subject to these pre-existing contracts are not protected by the RTW law until those contracts expire or are extended or renewed.
Q: How can I exercise my rights under Kentucky’s new RTW law?
A: To fully exercise your rights to not pay union dues and fees, you must be a nonmember of the union. Voluntary union members, although they cannot be fired from their jobs for failure to pay union dues under the RTW law, may still owe dues and fees to the union on account of their continued membership in the organization.
If you are not a union member, you do not need to do anything to exercise your rights under the RTW law. Your employer should stop compelling you to pay union fees when the RTW law becomes applicable to you. However, it may be good practice to send your employer and union a letter notifying them of your rights and intentions. This is particularly true if you are currently paying union fees by means of payroll deduction (see below).
If you are currently a union member and wish to exercise your rights under the RTW law, send the union and your employer a letter stating that you are resigning effective immediately from the union and no longer wish to pay dues to it. You should check your union’s constitution and bylaws to see if it has any provision specifying to whom a resignation must be submitted.
The union may assert that resignations must be submitted only during a specified time period. That is untrue, because federal labor law allows private-sector employees to resign at any time. If you encounter this response, you may contact the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation for further assistance by calling 800-336-3600 or clicking here.
Q: If the current contract in my bargaining unit was in effect before January 7, 2017, is there anything I can do now to reduce the amount of dues I am forced to pay the union, until such time as I can cut off all dues payments under the RTW law?
A: Yes. Because Kentucky’s RTW law will take some time to become fully effective in all workplaces, some employees will not be able to cut off all dues immediately. However, all employees can immediately exercise their pre-existing legal rights to (1) not be a member of the union and (2) not pay union dues or fees used for political and other nonbargaining activities. This can be accomplished by sending a letter to the union informing it that you wish to be a nonmember and object to paying dues for politics and other nonbargaining activities. More information on that right can be found here. Exercising this option will reduce the amount of compulsory union fees that you must pay as a condition of employment. Upon becoming subject to the RTW law, those compulsory fees should cease entirely.
Q: What if I am paying my dues through payroll deduction?
A: If you wish to exercise your rights under the RTW law and previously authorized deduction of union dues or fees directly from your paycheck, in addition to resigning your membership you should also revoke that “check-off” authorization by notifying both the union and your employer in writing that you are revoking it.
The dues check-off authorization form that you signed may contain a restriction on when it can be revoked. Even after Kentucky’s RTW law becomes effective for you, the union may claim that you still must wait until the designated “window period” arrives to revoke the authorization and cease paying union dues or fees. Whether such restrictions remain binding after Kentucky’s RTW law becomes effective is legally questionable, and may depend in part on the exact language of the authorization form you signed. If the union refuses to honor your revocation of a check-off authorization that you signed, you should contact the Foundation for further assistance by calling 1-800-336-3600 or by clicking here.
Q: Will exercising my rights under Kentucky’s new RTW law affect any other terms or conditions of my employment?
A: No. It is unlawful for an employer or union to discriminate against an employee concerning terms or conditions of employment based on his or her membership or nonmembership in a union. If you resign from membership, you will remain fully covered by any bargaining contract negotiated between your employer and the union, and the union will remain obligated to represent you. Any benefits that are provided to you by your employer pursuant to the bargaining contract (e.g., wages, seniority, vacations, pension, and health insurance) will not be affected by your resignation from the union.
The union can exclude you and other nonmembers from its “internal” activities, such as participating in union elections, union meetings, and contract ratification votes. If the union itself offers “members-only” benefits, you might be excluded from receiving those, including continued participation in a union’s members-only benefit plan. However, participation in an employer-sponsored or jointly-sponsored pension plan provided as an employee benefit under the contract cannot be adversely affected by nonmembership in a union.
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. On the other hand, 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.
Q: Where can I turn to get help or answers in exercising my rights under the RTW law?
A: You may contact the Foundation by calling 1-800-336-3600 or by clicking here if you have any questions about your ability to resign immediately, object to paying full dues, or revoke your check-off authorization when Kentucky’s RTW law becomes effective for you. The Foundation has established a legal task force to assist Kentucky employees in taking full advantage of Kentucky’s RTW law. We know that many questions and issues will arise as the law is fully phased-in for each worker, so do not hesitate to contact us.
Q: Is there a sample letter that I can use to claim all of my rights under current law and the RTW law when it becomes effective?
A: Yes. If the RTW law is effective for you, and you decide to resign from a union and revoke your dues check-off authorization, you can find a sample letter here. If the RTW is not yet effective for you and you decide to resign from a union, object to a portion of those fees, and pay only reduced fees, you can find a sample letter here.
Though not legally required, you may want to send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested to both the union and employer, so that neither can claim that it did not receive it. If your union and/or employer refuse to honor your resignation, objection, and/or dues deduction revocation, contact the Foundation immediately at 1-800-336-3600 or click here for assistance, because most claims of this type must be filed within six months of the rejection of your resignation, objection and/or revocation.
The Foundation neither encourages nor discourages you from resigning, objecting, revoking your dues check-off, or eliminating the union from your workplace. Those decisions are yours alone. The Foundation here is simply explaining your legal rights in light of Kentucky’s new RTW law. If you have any questions, or feel that your legal rights need to be protected, please call the Foundation at 1-800-336-3600 or click here.