Rule Request Would Require Public Sector Unions To Notify Members Of When They Are Eligible To Resign
Union members often unaware of limited windows when they can opt out under state's right-to-work law
Having the right to leave a union doesn't mean much if union members don’t know how to get out.
That could change if a request to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is approved.
The Mackinac Center submitted a formal request to MERC that would require the state agency to establish a new rule that unions that represent public employees tell their members three weeks ahead of when they are eligible to opt out by use of a "resignation notification."
"This is about common sense," said Patrick Wright, vice president of legal affairs at the Mackinac Center. "People need to know their rights and we want to make sure that they do."
State law says anyone can make a request to a state agency to create a new rule, Wright said.
Union members have limited windows when they can officially resign and often do not know when they are eligible. With the passage of the state's right-to-work law, union members can no longer be fired for not paying dues or fees to a union.
But the law does not have a provision that requires unions to notify their members of when they have the right to resign from the union.
The request to MERC details the ways union members would be notified, when unions would be required to notify their members and the penalties for not doing so, among other provisions.
Unions often do not make it easy for their members to know when they can leave. The Michigan Education Association for example, gives its members the opportunity to leave the union only during the month of August. This restriction is known as the "August window."
Before the state's right-to-work law went into effect, there was little incentive to leave a union, because non-union employees had to pay fees of up to 90 percent of what they would have paid in dues. However, after the law was enacted many MEA members who wanted to leave the union were unaware they could only do so in August, and the union said it had no interest in volunteering the information.
None of the unions Michigan Capitol Confidential contacted responded when offered the opportunity to comment.
"The Michigan Employment Relations Commission will take this request under careful consideration and may put the matter up for discussion at an upcoming meeting," Ruthanne Okun, director of Michigan's Bureau of Employment Relations, said in a statement, according to a story posted on MLive.
The following is the Mackinac Center's request to MERC, in part:
Pursuant to MCL 24.238, the Mackinac Center requests that the Michigan Employment Relations Commission promulgate the following rule.
Notice of rights of public employees under 2012 PA 349
(1) Notification to bargaining unit members.
Pursuant to MCL 423.209(2)(a), Michigan's right-to-work law, public employees may refrain from becoming or remaining a member of a labor organization or bargaining representative or otherwise affiliate with or financially support a labor organization or bargaining representative.
Any labor organization or bargaining representative that requires, pursuant to union governing documents, that members resign or terminate their membership within a specific period of time in the calendar year shall be required to notify all members of the bargaining unit of their rights under 2012 PA 349. The notice shall adhere to the form described in section (2) and shall be delivered in the manner described in section (3).
(2) Form of notification.
The resignation notification shall contain all of the following information:
- Acknowledge the ability of the public employee to resign his or her membership with the labor organization;
- Indicate the deadline and/or window of time during which a resigning member must submit a resignation notice;
- Indicate to the public employee that resignation does not relieve the designated bargaining representative of the obligations it has to the public employee of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment with the employer; and
- Provide a link to the governing documents, which shall be posted on the labor organization website or an affiliate’s website if the labor organization does not have a website, [which] imposes time restrictions on a member resignation.
(3) Method of notification
The labor organization shall send the resignation notification to bargaining unit members twenty-one (21) days prior to the deadline for resignations or twenty-one (21) days prior to the first day of a resignation time period, whichever comes first.
The resignation notification shall be sent to the public employee’s work e-mail address of each bargaining unit member. The form of the resignation notification to be sent to bargaining unit members shall be prescribed.
If the public employee does not have a public email address, the labor organization may send a physical copy of the notice to the employee at his or her work and home addresses.
Failure of a labor organization or bargaining representative to comply with this rule shall constitute an unfair labor practice. In some cases, a person who suffers an injury as a result of a violation may bring a civil action for damages, injunctive relief, or both. In addition, a court shall award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to a plaintiff who prevails in an action brought under this rule.
(Editor's note: A statement attributed to Ruthanne Okun that was reported in MLive has been added to this story.)