Congratulations on being employed in the newest Right to Work ("RTW") state. This special notice is intended to inform Michigan's public sector employees–i.e., those employed by the state, municipalities, or school districts–of their rights under this important new law. [If you are a private-sector employee go to the Special Legal Notice to Most Private-Sector Workers in Michigan]
Summary of Your Rights
1. Michigan's RTW law allows you to stop financially supporting an unwanted union. It gives you the choice whether to be a union member or pay union dues–or not do any of those things. It's your choice, not the union's or your employer's.
2. The RTW law only applies to collective bargaining contracts entered into, renewed or extended after the new law's effective date, which will be on or about March 27, 2013. If you are subject to a contract pre-dating the law's effective date, you can be compelled to pay union dues or fees until that contract expires, is renewed or is extended.
Detailed Explanation of Your Rights
Q: What does the new Michigan 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 be a union member or pay union dues to keep your job. Under the new RTW law, you will have the right to be a nonmember and not pay anything to a union. To see the text of the RTW law, click here (pdf).
Q: Which public-sector employees are covered by Michigan's RTW law?
A: Individuals employed by the state, its political subdivisions, or public school systems are covered by the RTW law, with the exception of policemen and firefighters. However, it appears that the unions may contest whether state civil service employees will enjoy the protections of the RTW law, and this issue may become the subject of litigation.
Q: When will I enjoy the protections of the RTW law?
A: The RTW law takes effect 91 days after the close of the Michigan legislature's current session, i.e., on or about March 27, 2013. The law does not affect union collective bargaining agreements entered into prior to that date. Individuals subject to pre-existing contracts are not protected by the RTW law until that contract expires, is renewed or is extended.
Thus, if on or about March 27, 2013, you are not subject to a union contract that requires membership or payment of union dues as a condition of employment, you are immediately protected by Michigan's RTW law. However, if you are subject to such a union contract at that time, then you will not enjoy the protections of the RTW law until that contract expires, is renewed or is extended. Once you are protected by the RTW law, no subsequent contract can require you to be a member or pay any dues or fees to the union.
Q: How can I exercise my rights under Michigan's new RTW law?
A: In order to fully exercise your rights to not pay union dues and fees, you must be a nonmember of the union. Voluntary union members, while 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 cease 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 service fees by means of payroll deduction (see below). A sample letter can be found here.
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. A sample letter can be found here.
The union may assert that resignations must be submitted only during a specified time period. That may be untrue, because such limitations on the right to resign may be unlawful. If you encounter this response, you may contact the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation for further assistance at 800-336-3600 or clicking here.
Q: If the current contract in my bargaining unit was entered into on or before March 27, 2013, 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 Michigan's RTW law will take a few years to become fully effective in all workplaces, many employees will not be able to cut off all dues immediately. However, all employees can immediately exercise their legal rights to refrain from formal union membership, and to refrain from paying that portion of the dues spent on politics 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. That will reduce the amount of compulsory union fees that you must pay. Upon becoming subject to the RTW law, those compulsory fees should cease entirely. Click here for a sample letter to exercise your legal rights.
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 direct 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 sample letter found here includes language revoking a dues check-off authorization.
The dues check-off authorization form that you signed may contain a restriction on the period during which it can be revoked. Even after Michigan'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 Michigan's RTW law becomes effective is legally questionable, and may depend in part on the exact language of the form. If the union refuses to honor your revocation of a check-off authorization that you signed, you should contact the Foundation for further assistance at 1-800-336-3600 or by clicking here.
Additionally, Michigan recently passed a statute prohibiting public school employers from deducting any union dues and fees from its employees' paychecks. However, that statute is currently being subjected to a union legal challenge. Until that challenge is resolved, public school employees wishing to exercise their right to resign and cease paying union dues should submit letters revoking their check-off authorizations. If and when the law prohibiting payroll deduction is upheld, this step will no longer be necessary for public school employees.
Q: Will exercising my rights under Michigan's new RTW law affect any other terms or conditions of my employment?
A: No. It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on his or her nonmembership in the union. 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.
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. (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. (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: Can an employee sue if Michigan's RTW law is violated?
A: Yes. Individuals injured because of an actual or threatened violation of the RTW law may bring a civil action in state court. A successful plaintiff can recover one or more of the following: 1) damages resulting from the violation or threatened violation, such as union dues wrongfully withheld or lost wages; 2) injunctive relief; and 3) attorneys' fees and court costs.
Q: Where can I turn to get help or answers in exercising my rights under the RTW law?
A: You may contact the Foundation at 1-800-336-3600 or click here if you have any questions about your ability to immediately resign, object to paying full dues, and revoke your check-off authorization when Michigan's RTW law becomes effective for you. The Foundation has established a legal task force to assist Michigan employees in taking full advantage of Michigan's RTW law. We know that many questions and issues will arise as the law is fully phased-in for each worker.
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. Click here for a sample letter to use if you decide to resign, object, and revoke your check-off authorization. Though not legally required, you may want to send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested to both the union and employer, so that neither can claim that it did not receive your letter. If your union and/or employer refuses 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 is simply explaining your legal rights in light of Michigan's 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.