If you are a public sector employee in Michigan, please click here.
Michigan’s legislative majority and current Governor are unfortunately repealing Michigan’s Right to Work law which granted most private-sector workers a right to not join or pay monies to unions they oppose. This special notice is intended to inform Michigan workers who are employed by private companies, other than in the airline and railroad industries, of their rights after the repeal of the Right to Work law takes effect ninety days after the current legislative session ends.* In the meantime, the Right to Work law is still in effect.
In short, after the repeal statute takes effect, it will be legal under Michigan law for private-sector employers and unions to enter into agreements that compel workers to pay fees to unions as a condition of employment. However, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) workers subject to these forced fee arrangements cannot lawfully be compelled to be actual union members or pay full union dues to keep their jobs. More detailed information about this development is below.
* The repeal of Michigan’s Right to Work law will impact public-sector workers differently than most private-sector workers and will not impact federal employees or individuals in the airline and railroad industries. Other pages of this website discuss the rights of: (1) public-sector Michigan workers who are employed by the state government, a local government, or a school district [About Your Legal Rights: State or Local Government Employee]; (2) federal employees [About Your Legal Rights: Federal Government Employee]; and (3) workers in the airline and railroad industries [About Your Legal Rights: Railway or Airline Employee].
Detailed Explanation of Your Rights
What is a forced fee agreement?
A forced fee agreement is a contract between a union and an employer that requires all workers who are subject to the union’s monopoly representation to pay compulsory fees to the union to keep their jobs. The agreements usually require the employer to fire any employee who refuses to pay tribute to the union. These compulsory arrangements are sometimes called “union shop” or “agency shop” agreements.
Michigan’s Right to Work law prohibited forced fee agreements and guaranteed each employee a right to choose whether to pay monies to a union. Unfortunately, at the behest of union officials, Michigan politicians are now stripping workers of this important right. Effective when the current legislative session ends, Michigan employers and unions can enter into forced fee agreements and compel nonconsenting private-sector employees to financially support the union in their workplace to keep their jobs.
When can unions and employers subject private-sector Michigan workers to forced fee requirements?
Private-sector Michigan workers cannot be forced to pay union fees until ninety days after the current legislative session ends. After that, private-sector workers cannot be forced to pay union fees unless their employer and the union at their workplace have entered into a forced fee agreement. Moreover, the date that any given union and employer can start forcing workers to pay union fees will depend on when the employer and a union enter into a forced fee agreement. The reason is that workers cannot be compelled to pay union fees as condition of their employment until thirty (30) days after their employer enters into a forced fee agreement with a union.
Some unions may already be parties to forced fee agreements with employers that were not enforceable under the Right to Work law that will automatically go into effect when the repeal is effective. Other unions will have to bargain with an employer to induce or cajole it to include a forced fee requirement in the collective bargaining agreement. Whether and when such employers will capitulate to union demands for a forced fee agreement will vary. Under federal law, employers and unions that enter into a forced fee agreement cannot enforce it against workers until thirty (30) days after that agreement becomes effective. See 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(3).
Fortunately, Michigan workers who are not subject to union representation—the vast majority of Michigan workers—cannot be compelled to pay union fees as long as their workplace remains nonunion. Only employees subject to the yoke of monopoly union representation can be forced to pay fees to a union.
What are private-sector Michigan workers’ rights and options if they are subjected to a forced fee requirement?
Forced fee requirements compel workers who are not union members to pay union fees to keep their jobs. This includes both workers who never joined the union and workers who resign their union membership. However, workers subject to forced fee requirements have a number of legal rights.
First, under the NLRA, private-sector workers have the right not to be members of a union and, if they have become a union member, to resign that membership at any time. It is unlawful for a union or employer to compel a worker to become or remain a full union member under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Pattern Makers v. NLRB, 473 U.S. 95 (1985). More information about workers’ right to not be a union member can be found here: How can I resign my union membership?
Second, under the NLRA, workers who are nonmembers have a right to object to paying full union dues and to pay a reduced union fee. The U.S. Supreme Court in Communication Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988), a lawsuit won by Foundation attorneys, ruled that the most that objecting nonmembers can be required to pay is an “agency fee” that equals their share of what the union can prove is its costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment with their employer. Except in extraordinary cases, that fee is less than the full dues amount. More information about a worker’s right to pay reduced union fee can be found here: How do I cut off the use of my dues for politics and other nonbargaining activities?
Third, workers have a right to choose whether to authorize payroll deduction of union fees or to pay those fees through other means. It is unlawful under the NLRA for a union or employer to compel workers to agree to have union fees directly deducted from their wages or to deduct such fees without the workers’ authorization.
Fourth, unions have a legal obligation under the NLRA to inform nonmembers subject to forced fee requirements of their rights not to be a union member and to object to paying full union fees, i.e., fees equal to union dues. Unions also have a legal obligation to inform objecting workers of the basis for the union’s calculation of its compulsory fee. More information about a workers’ right to this information can be found here: How do I cut off the use of my dues for politics and other nonbargaining activities?
Fifth, workers have a right to “deauthorize” a union from imposing forced fee requirements. The NLRA allows workers to call for a deauthorization election to determine whether a majority of workers in a bargaining unit wish to rescind a forced fee agreement and allow workers to choose individually whether or not to pay union dues. More information about deauthorization elections can be found here: Deauthorization Election
Finally, during certain time periods, workers have a right to call for a “decertification” election to remove the union from their workplace entirely. Workers who free themselves from monopoly union representation will also free themselves from forced fee requirements. More information on decertification can be found here: Decertification Election
More information about all of these rights can be found here: About Your Legal Rights: Private Sector Employee
Can private-sector Michigan workers be required to become or remain full union members under a forced fee agreement?
As discussed above, unions and employers cannot lawfully compel workers to become or remain full union members. The so-called “closed shop” has been unlawful since 1947. It is well-established that under the NLRA the most that can be lawfully required of an objecting employee under a forced fee agreement is that they pay reduced union fees. The repeal of the Michigan Right to Work law does not change that.
The misconception that forced fee agreements require full union membership often stems from agreements misleadingly stating that “membership” is required as condition of employment. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in Communication Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988) held that the word “membership” in this context means only the payment of reduced union fees. It does not mean full union membership.
Unions often fail to meet their legal obligation to inform workers of their right not to be a union member and to object to paying full union dues. In fact, unions sometimes mislead workers to believe that they must join the union to keep their jobs.
A union may commit an unfair labor practice in violation of federal law if it fails to inform workers of their rights under a forced fee agreement or misleads them to believe that it requires full union membership. If you observe such conduct and would like to request free legal advice on how to potentially address it, you can contact the National Right to Work Foundation’s legal department here: National Right to Work Foundation Free Legal Aid
Who can private-sector Michigan workers contact if they need advice on exercising their rights and options?
They can contact the National Right to Work Foundation’s legal department at https://www.nrtw.org/free-legal-aid/ to request free legal advice. The Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization that was established in 1968 to eliminate compulsory unionism abuses through litigation, public information, and education programs. The Foundation has a staff of almost twenty attorneys. There is no charge for requesting legal aid from the Foundation and any information you send to us seeking legal aid will be kept strictly confidential. If your inquiry is urgent, you can call us on our toll-free line (800-336-3600).