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Other Public-Sector Union

How Public Employees Can Opt Out of a Portion of Dues

U.S. Supreme Court decisions have established that unions cannot force public employees, through their union dues, to “contribute to the support of an ideological cause (they) may oppose as a condition of holding a job.” (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education 431 U.S. 209 [1977]).

Consequently, anyone may resign from full union membership. In any of the 28 states that prohibit forced union fees, resignation means those opting out need not pay the union anything.

If you happen to work in one of the 22 states still permitting an “agency fee” requirement in the union contract, a portion of your paycheck will still be deducted even after you’ve left the union to help pay its overhead costs. These agency fees routinely amount to 70 or 90 percent of what the worker was paying before opting out.

Still, exercising your constitutional rights sends an important message to the union that it needs to spend more time representing your interests and less time on excess spending on unrelated causes and politics.

To stop the state from deducting dues from your pay:

  1. Enter your information into the form below and click “submit.”
  2. On the next page, click the link to open your customized form. You will also receive an email with a link to your form.
  3. Print the form. If you check the appropriate box below, we’ll mail you a copy of the form.
  4. Sign and date the form.
  5. Mail the completed form to the at the address at the top of the form. We highly recommend sending it via certified mail.
  • We will not contact you unless you choose to receive updates from us
  • Often this can be found on the union newsletter or the website of your union. Find the mailing address of whatever office of the union which handles membership.

FAQs

How do I find my union's address?

Often the union’s address can be found on the union newsletter or the website of your union. Find the mailing address of whatever office of the union which handles membership.

What should I expect next?

Some acknowledgement should be received within a few weeks.

Because dues collection is the core of the union business model, most people who seek the refund or dues reduction will get a sales pitch to talk them out of it. Sometimes the sales pitch includes untrue claims and scare tactics. Ask to have any questionable claims documented in writing.

Watch for the dues reduction or refund check. Contact the union if nothing happens.

All fee payers are to receive an accounting of how the union spends money which shows what is spent on workplace services and what is spent on extraneous things (called “nonchargeable” expenditures). If you do not receive this within a year, ask for it.

Some unions have tricked members into promising never to resign except during a small window of time. If this is claimed in your case, ask for documentation that you ever signed such a contract.

Remember, you are being charged a fee for the union-calculated cost of services. You are entitled to those services – help with contract enforcement, grievances, discipline assistance and other workplace representation.

How much less will I pay?

The reduction amount varies as the union’s spending on politics and nonessential activities changes from year to year. Union refunds or withholding reductions can reduce your paycheck deduction by 10 and 50 percent. A year’s reduction for a full-time public employee could be as high as $400.

Why can’t public employees opt out of all dues and fees?

In the 28 “right-to-work” states, they can. In the remaining 22 states, federal courts have acknowledged the extraordinary power of unions to seize funds from people against their will can be abused. Specifically, courts have recognized that unions have the power to wrongfully overcharge public employees for workplace services, spending the excess on political activity employees may disagree with. In essence, this results in employees being compelled to fund political speech they don’t support in violation of the First Amendment.

When public employees have pushed back against mandatory payment, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed that employees have certain rights. As a result, you can keep the funds from overcharges and make your own decisions about politics and causes.

Key cases include Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, 500 U.S. 507 (1991), Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292, (1986), and Abood v. Detroit Board of Education 431 U.S. 209 (1977).

A new case, Janus v. AFSCME, is expected to receive a ruling in June 2018.

If the court sides with workers and against the union enterprise, those who have opted out of the union will no longer be obligated to pay a fee set by the union. Instead, they can pay what they wish to whichever office of the union serves them.

If I turn in the form above, will the union still help me with workplace issues?

Yes. The union must provide the full range of workplace representation services to those paying the agency fee, but you will no longer have to fund items unrelated to workplace representation like politics, marketing, litigation and ideological causes. If a union refuses to provide these services, it is violating its legal obligations.

The union has been recognized by the state as the exclusive representative of the members of your bargaining unit. It can and will prevent members of the bargaining unit from securing their own assistance with workplace issues or making their own contract deal with the employer. In return for a monopoly on representing employees in your bargaining unit, unions must accept a corresponding legal duty to provide fair representation to all employees, whether formal union members or not. The union is required to provide workplace representation, contract enforcement, discipline assistance and grievance assistance for those paying for such services through their agency fees.

If I stop paying full dues to the union, will I still receive the same wages and benefits specified in the union contract with my employer?

Yes. The union has arranged to be the “exclusive representative” of your bargaining unit, meaning that the same contract will cover all employees. As an agency fee payer, you will continue to receive the wages and benefits specified in the contract.

Does opting out affect my pension?

No. A union contract is binding on all employees in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether they are technically union “members.” Your compensation, benefits (including retirement) and conditions of employment are all set by the contract with your employer and the state legislature, and these will remain unchanged whether you pay full union dues or only the agency fee.

Is there a deadline?

The Constitutional right to freedom of association ensures you can resign membership as you please.

The processing of reduced fees or rebates of overcharges, however, can be subject to union preferences. Some are very reasonable about this; others allow their financial interests to motivate them to create a cumbersome and unfair process including “opt-out” windows.

How will my relationship with the union change if I resign my membership and pay the reduced agency fee?

While the terms of the contract will still govern your employment, as a nonmember, the union may choose to prevent you from participating in internal union affairs, such as attending union meetings or voting in union elections, including contract ratification votes. Unions also commonly withhold any special “members-only” deals or discounts the union has arranged with businesses. The union may stop sending the union newsletter or similar publications.

How does the union spend my dues money?

Public employee unions are private organizations with minimal obligations to disclose financial information to members.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision, Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudsonhas established that agency fee payers must be given an annual accounting of how much the union spends on “nonchargeable” activities which are refunded or not collected from fee payers.

You should receive a “Hudson Notice” if you opt to pay the agency fee, and request one if the union does not provide it.

As a nonprofit, the IRS requires CFT’s 990 tax return to be a public document, and these can be found online at sites like this.

All private-sector unions, and some public sector, are obligated to report financial information to the U.S. Dept. of Labor in an annual LM-2 report which can be found here.

Those represented by a local bargaining agent often also pay several related organizations, such as state and national affiliates, and also regional, state and national labor councils.

These organizations are less likely to perform workplace representation services, and may report to the IRS some of the financial activity found in their 990 tax returns, or to the U.S. Department of Labor in their LM-2 forms.

Will the union exclude me from workplace decisions?

Often, but not always. Some union local presidents will not allow bargaining unit members who pay for workplace representation to participate in decisions like contract votes or strike votes. This is unfair, but since they technically have no state law obligation to allow anyone to vote in the first place, they can legally exclude fee payers.

Of course, nonmembers are not allowed to vote in union elections or other union business.

Can I donate to a charity instead?

Those who have a personal religious, faith-based objection to the union or its activities are allowed under state and federal law to donate the full amount of their dues to a charity instead of supporting the union. This option requires the objector to write a letter to the local union president. For more information about the accommodation for religious objectors, see the information here.

Why do unions get to take my money in the first place?

Your state legislature granted unions a monopoly over workplace representation services for public employees and allowed them to require employees to financially support the union. At some point, the union secured the franchise to represent and collect dues from employees in a defined “bargaining unit.” The vote may have been long ago with few current employees having a say.

Unions representing public employees are not governed by the usual consumer protection or anti-trust laws, so abuses are common. Unions can charge whatever they wish. They can spend dues money on whatever they wish. They do not have to disclose how dues money is spent to members. They can speak for employees without consulting or informing them. They can injure some members’ interests while advancing the interests of others. They can prevent employees from getting help in their workplace from other sources. They are not governed by any obligation to provide quality service, and they almost never have to seek approval of the bargaining unit in an election to continue as the exclusive dues-collecting union.

Why do people opt out of the union?

Some simply do not like being overcharged for the services they receive. No reason is required.

Most who believe the union arrangement is not a good fit have more specific concerns. They may find the union’s one-size-fits-all agenda does not serve them well because they are new to the profession, have a specialty that’s not acknowledged in bargaining, or they believe their effectiveness is undercompensated. Some resent the union’s role in enabling and defending underperforming employees. Many find the politicking and use of dues to advance partisan causes, candidates and ideology distasteful. Still others believe that union officials take advantage of the power to force people to pay by overcharging and underperforming.

Some governing bodies of public employers do not agree to employee contracts that allow unions to force fees on employees. Some states ban such forced fee requirements to protect all public employees.

What about the Janus v. AFSCME court decision?

Public-sector union activities – including negotiating with government – potentially violate the First Amendment rights of workers being forced to fund the political voice of the union. In a pending U.S. Supreme Court Case, Janus v. AFSCME, a public employee from Illinois is seeking to prove that being forced to financially support a union is unconstitutional.

The public employees’ argument is that the entire system of a union speaking for all employees on the governance of their public employer is ultimately political and thus is compelled political speech in violation of the First Amendment.

A ruling is expected in June 2018.

If the court sides with workers and against the union enterprise, those who have opted out of the union will no longer be obligated to pay a fee set by the union. Instead, they can pay what they wish to whichever office of the union serves them.