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Michigan Woman Could Be Key To Changing Federal Labor Law

The right of an employee to renounce membership in a membership and withhold dues, at the heart of right-to-work statutes like the one adopted in Michigan in 2012, could receive a significant boost from a case pending before the National Labor Relations Board.

The former employee of AT&T in Detroit unsuccessfully sought in 2018 to revoke a voluntary dues checkoff agreement she had signed with the Communications Workers of America 18 years earlier. Her attorney said a favorable ruling from the NLRB could have far-reaching implications for private sector employees all over the country.

If the NLRB sides with Veronica Rolader, it could mean an end to arbitrary and burdensome restrictions on the right to withdraw from union membership, said Glenn Taubman, an attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation

“There are all kinds of people who would like to get out if it was easier to do,” Taubman said. “The unions always try to make it as burdensome as possible. (A favorable ruling) would basically free ... workers to remove checkoffs at will.”

According to her complaint to the NLRB, Rolader twice notified AT&T in 2018 of her intention to end her union membership and dues payment. Both requests were denied as untimely because they fell outside a window for withdrawal agreed upon by CWA and AT&T, she said. Neither notified her of what was required to file a timely request.

Taubman said Rolader was clearly within her right to withdraw from the union under both federal labor law and Michigan’s right-to-work statute.

The NLRB complaint asks the board to reverse a decision it rendered 40 years ago, limiting a workers’ option to withdraw from a union to a specified time window. Doing so would be consistent with other NLRB decisions and the right thing, Taubman said.

Notably, CWA initially settled Rolader’s complaint by agreeing not to enforce certain provisions in its contract with AT&T about the renunciation of union membership. It also refunded dues she paid after the initial request. Her complaint against AT&T continued, however, and the union recently requested that it be allowed to intervene in the proceedings.

Taubman said the final pleadings in the case are scheduled to be submitted in a few weeks, and that the NLRB could be expected to rule by early in 2021.

National Right to Work has represented other Michigan employees attempting to assert their right to renounce union membership. One case involves the Michigan Education Association, which agreed earlier this year to recognize an Ann Arbor public school teacher’s request to withdraw and dropped an attempt to collect $3,000 in unpaid union dues.  An attorney for the CWA in Cleveland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.