As you may know, some unions in West Virginia have challenged West Virginia’s Right to Work (“RTW”) law in state court. The unions asked the trial court for a preliminary injunction, that is, a court order prohibiting the State of West Virginia from enforcing or implementing its RTW law. The trial court granted this request in writing on February 23, 2017. Since then, the status and applicability of West Virginia’s RTW law has been unclear. However, on September 15, 2017, the West Virginia Supreme Court dissolved the trial court’s preliminary injunction, thereby eliminating the prohibition on enforcement of West Virginia’s RTW law. This restored clarity to the current law— West Virginia’s RTW law became fully effective when the Supreme Court’s decision took effect on October 15, 2017.
Please read the following information about your rights under this important law.
Summary of Your Rights
1. West Virginia’s RTW law allows you to stop being a member of a 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 West Virginia RTW law applies to collective bargaining contracts entered into, modified, renewed or extended after July 1, 2016. If you are subject to a contract in effect on or before June 30, 2016, you can be compelled to either pay union dues as a union member or fees as a nonmember until that contract expires, is modified, is renewed or is extended. Even if you are subject to a contract in effect on or before June 30, 2016, nonmembers have the right to object to paying 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 West Virginia 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 as to you, you will have the right to be a nonmember and not pay anything to a union.
Q: Are all employees covered by West Virginia’s RTW law?
A: West Virginia’s RTW law applies to most workers, but it does not apply to federal employees, employees of airlines or railroads, or employees working on property subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction. Federal employees already have Right to Work protection from federal existing 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, modified, renewed or extended after July 1, 2016. The law does not affect union collective bargaining agreements that were in effect on or before June 30, 2016. Individuals subject to pre-existing contracts requiring forced dues/fees are not protected by the RTW law until those contracts expire, are modified, renewed, or extended. If you are subject to such a union contract that has been in effect since or June 30, 2016, or earlier then you will not enjoy the protections of the RTW law until that contract expires, is modified, is renewed or is extended.
Any contract entered into after July 1, 2016, should not require membership or payment of union dues as a condition of employment. If you work under such a contract, you are fully protected by West Virginia’s RTW law and cannot lawfully be required to be a member of or pay any dues or fees to a union. Any contract entered into after July 1, 2016 that requires membership or payment of union dues as a condition of employment is illegal because it violates West Virginia’s RTW law. Unions may use the trial court’s now dissolved preliminary injunction to claim that a contract that expired, was modified, renewed, or extended after the Right to Work law became effective but before the injunction was dissolved, that is, from July 1, 2016, through September 15, 2017, is legal, to try and enforce the contract’s requirement of union membership or payment of fees as a condition of employment. If that happens to you, you can contact the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation for further assistance by calling 800-336-3600 or clicking here.
Q: How can I exercise my rights under West Virginia’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, 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 cease compelling you to pay union fees when the RTW law becomes applicable to you. However, if union deductions are still being taken from your paycheck, you should send your employer and union a letter notifying them of your rights and intentions to cease paying union fees by means of payroll deduction (see two questions 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 on or before June 30, 2016, 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 West Virginia’s RTW law will take some time 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 from paying that portion of the dues that is spent on politics and other nonbargaining activities. This can be accomplished by sending a letter to the union informing it that you resign from membership 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 later 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 the period during which it can be revoked. Even after West Virginia’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 West Virginia’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 West Virginia’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 conditions of employment based on his or her membership or nonmembership in a 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 in your employment relations with your employer. Any benefits that are provided to you by your employer pursuant to the collective 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 union elections, union meetings, and contract ratification votes. If the union itself offers “members-only” benefits, you might be excluded from receiving those. 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 immediately resign, object to paying full dues, or revoke your check-off authorization when West Virginia’s RTW law becomes effective for you. The Foundation has established a legal task force to assist West Virginia employees in taking full advantage of West Virginia’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 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 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 is here simply explaining your legal rights in light of West Virginia’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.