In Pattern Makers v. NLRB, 473 U.S. 95 (1985), the United States Supreme Court held that union members have the right to resign their union membership at any time.
Of course, the decision to resign is wholly yours. If the contract between your employer and the union contains no provision requiring you to join the union or pay union fees, after resigning you would have no obligations whatsoever to the union. If the contract does contain such a provision, as a nonmember you would have the right to limit your union fees to your share of the costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment, and you also would not be subject to union rules and discipline. For example, nonmembers are not subject to union rules against working during a strike. If you are a union member, and you work during a strike, the union could potentially fine you and collect that fine in state court.
If you resign, the union would have to continue to represent you fairly and without discrimination in all matters subject to collective bargaining, and you could not be denied any benefits under the labor contract with your employer because of nonmembership.
On the other hand, you would not have the right to vote on ratification of the contract or election of union officers, and there may be benefits provided under the union’s constitution and bylaws that are not available to nonmembers (however, a nonmember cannot be charged a share of the costs of member-only benefits). These benefits could include continued participation in a union’s members-only retirement plan. (Your participation in an employer-sponsored or jointly-sponsored pension plan provided as an employee benefit cannot be adversely affected by nonmembership in a union.)
You can resign by simply sending your union a written letter stating that you are resigning effective immediately. Similarly, you can assert your right not to pay for the union’s political activities by notifying it in writing that you object to use of your dues for purposes other than collective bargaining and contract administration. The union may assert that resignations can be submitted only during a specified time period. That is untrue, because such limitations on the right to resign were held unlawful in Pattern Makers.
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 the courts and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). You should also check with the union to see if it has a policy concerning when and to whom Beck objections (objections to the amount of the union fees) should be submitted. For links to union objection policies on the Internet, click here.
If you have authorized payroll deduction of full dues, you might also have to notify your employer that you wish to authorize only the deduction of the portion of dues that is lawfully chargeable under Beck. Notifying your employer of your change to Beck-objector status should be construed as simply a change in the authorized amount of the deduction and be accepted by your employer, for immediate implementation, assuming you have also notified the union.
If you decide to resign and object, keep copies for your records of both your resignation and your objection letter. You should send both by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that the union cannot claim that it did not receive them. If your union and/or employer refuses to honor your resignation and/or objection, you should contact the Foundation immediately if you would like assistance.
If your union or your employer refuses to allow you to resign, you would be entitled to file an unfair labor practice charge against the refusing party(ies) with your nearest NLRB regional office. However, you should be aware that claims concerning conduct that occurs more than six months prior to the filing of charges may be time barred, so it is important to pursue claims promptly.
In addition to the rights discussed above (concerning ways to limit your association with the union), you should also remember that private sector employees covered by the NLRA have the right to seek a "deauthorization" election, which completely nullifies the compulsory unionism clause in the collective bargaining contract and eliminates ALL dues requirements. For more information on this option, click here.
This information is not intended to advocate that you resign from the union and object to the amount of union fees. The intent is simply to explain your legal rights in this type of situation.
Click here if you would like to see a sample union resignation letter.