News Story

Michigan Unions Back In Court To Keep State Employee Dues Flowing

2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocked dues withholding without employee consent and reapproval

A coalition of government employee unions is asking a federal court in Detroit to block a new Michigan Civil Service Commission rule that requires individual state workers to annually reauthorize their approval before a union may deduct dues from their paychecks.

Absent that reauthorization, or intervention by the court, dues collections will stop Oct. 3.

The unions argue that the new rule, adopted in July, provides an “impossibly short time frame” to secure reauthorization from 25,000 employees. They also argue that it infringes upon those employees’ First Amendment freedom of association.

According to the civil service commission, nearly 75% of all employees covered by a union contract had authorized deductions for 2021 by Sept. 14. Employees have received several notifications about the impending change, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has appeared in a pro-union video.

The unions’ real objection is more prosaic than a constitutional right, according to Mackinac Center for Public Policy labor policy director Steven Delie.

“It’s about money," Delie said. “The unions’ real concern is the revenue that could be lost from letting their members make an informed choice.”

Delie estimates that state unions stand to lose nearly $3.5 million a year if 25% their former dues payers opt out.

Members of the civil service commission voted 3-1 to require reauthorization on an annual basis, saying it is needed to conform with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In the court majority’s opinion, mandatory payments require union members to financially support speech they may disagree with, thus violating their First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association.

According to the commission’s response to the lawsuit, the new rule will ensure that state workers are aware of their right to not pay union dues or fees, and that dues cannot be taken from paychecks based on consent granted in the distant past.

The rule is intended, it said, to establish that “deduction authorizations are not stale, (but) current, knowing and voluntary.”

Since the commission adopted that rule, officials say, staffers have met often with unions to work on the process for reauthorizing dues and have sent mass emails to state employees to tell them about the new requirement.

In a video produced by the Michigan State Employees Association, the governor touts the ease with which reauthorization can be accomplished, whether online or over the phone.

“We will follow this rule because it’s the law,” Whitmer says in the video, “But to be clear, I don’t agree with it.”

It was not readily clear, however, how many state employees actually got the message. The YouTube channel on which it is posted reported only 57 views as of Sept. 22.

Neither the lead plaintiff in the case, UAW Local 6000, nor its attorney responded to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.