Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq. – Right-To-Work Law
UNION SUPPORTS DEMOCRATS’ CAUSES; CAN REPUBLICAN WORKER OPT OUT OF MEMBERSHIP?
QUESTION: I have worked in a union shop for several years, but have not joined the union. I like some of the benefits the union has helped us receive, but I disagree with the left-wing causes it supports. With the repeal of the right-to-work law, will I have to join and see my dollars promote causes I think are wrong?
ANSWER: Michigan’s decade-old right-to-work law gave employees who were part of a workforce represented by a union the right to opt out of union membership, for whatever reason. Opponents of the law argued it would weaken union bargaining power, depressing wages and resulting in fewer benefits for workers statewide. And, they argued, the law was essentially unfair, allowing some workers to get the benefit of representation without paying for it — a free ride off the union contributions of others. Proponents claimed the law would lower costs for businesses, encouraging businesses to invest in Michigan, resulting in more jobs and a larger tax base, and improving the overall economy.
Whatever the merits of either argument, repeal of the law is a done deal. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the repeal into law on Friday, March 24. Once the law takes effect — likely in early 2024 (90 days after the current legislative session ends) — workers in the private sector who are represented by a union, whether or not they choose to be members, will be required to support the union either through membership dues or through payment of an “agency fee.”
The agency fee offers a way out for workers who disagree with paying union dues to unions that support ideas, political candidates, or groups the workers oppose. The fee paid by these non-members is supposed to be used only to fund the union’s “core functions,” such as representing workers through collective bargaining. Lobbying and other political activities are not viewed as core functions.
In practice, the agency fee is generally around 75 to 85 percent of the full union dues. So, if annual dues, for example, were $1,000, a non-member paying an agency fee would have to pony up $750 to $850. Unions argue, however, that the fee is a bargain: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that non-union workers earn just 85 percent of the wages earned by workers represented by a union. A unionized worker, for example, might earn $60,000 a year, but pay $1,000 in union dues. A similarly situated non-union worker would not have to pay dues, but would likely earn only $51,000 (and would likely have fewer paid days off and other benefits).
While Michigan workers at unionized private companies may be stuck with paying unions something, workers in the public sector can still opt out. That’s because the law for government employees is governed by the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v AFSCME, which said mandatory agency fees violate nonmembers’ First Amendment rights, as does a requirement that workers be asked to provide monetary support to promote ideas they oppose. The decision essentially converted the heavily unionized public sector into a right-to-work zone.
Assuming you work for a private company, you will have to provide your union some financial support if the right-to-work law is repealed, but your payment won’t support its causes.
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ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
900 Wilshire Drive, Suite 104
Troy, MI 48084
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