Enforce employee Beck rights and enact a "paycheck protection" law.
Eleven years ago, the U. S. Supreme Court established what are now known as "Beck rights" in the landmark decision Communication Workers v. Beck.136 Beck rights dictate that workers cannot be forced under union contracts to pay any dues or fees beyond those necessary for the performance of the union's employee representation duties. In other words, any worker who objects to his union's use of his dues money for purposes not directly related to collective bargaining (such as political lobbying) is entitled to a refund of that portion of his dues.
Freedoms of speech and association are important and fundamental employee rights protected by the Beck decision. Most workers, however, do not fully enjoy these freedoms because they are not aware that they have the right to withhold the portion of their dues expended on political, social, or other nonchargeable activities to which they object.
This situation is unlikely to change unless public- and private-sector bargaining laws are amended to place an affirmative requirement on both unions and employers to notify dues-payers of their Beck rights. The law should permit employees to decide whether they wish to withhold the portion of their dues used for "extracurricular" union activities such as lobbying, electoral politics, image building, etc. Reform of this type would reinforce each employee's Constitutional rights to freedoms of speech and association and help prevent the misuse of union funds.
Several states, including Idaho and Washington, have enacted a measure known as "paycheck protection" to remedy the current lack of worker Beck rights enforcement. Paycheck protection safeguards worker rights by requiring unions to obtain up-front, written approval from individual workers before they collect and spend dues money on political or other non-workplace related activities.
Michigan has already taken a significant, though limited, step in this area by enacting Public Act 117 of 1994. Under this legislation, payroll dues deductions may be used for political action fund contributions only after individual workers grant their consent each year. Full paycheck protection would extend these requirements to cover all union non-workplace related dues expenditures, which represent a substantial portion of employee dues dollars.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." This principle should be reinforced in Michigan labor law. Accordingly, the state of Michigan should adopt a paycheck protection proposal by way of law or ballot initiative, as soon as practicable, in order to fully implement worker freedoms of speech and association when requesting and receiving a partial refund of involuntarily taken union dues.137
Another reason why Michigan should enact paycheck protection is that the NLRA is unclear about what "union membership" actually means, and the courts have failed to clarify the term. For example, "membership" as described in Section 8 (a)(3) does not necessarily mean full and formal union membership. Under court interpretation, "membership" requires only that employees pay dues and initiation fees.
The U. S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Marquez v. Screen Actors Guild only added to the confusion.138 In Marquez, the Court decided that a contract clause that states employees must become and remain "member[s] of the Union in good standing"without explaining the employees' right to become objecting agency fee payersis enforceable as written. By tracking the statutory language of the NLRA, the Court theorized that the clause incorporates all of the Court's prior case law refinements, such as Beck and General Motors, associated with that language.
The Court's ruling is a step backward from its prior case law, which stressed the importance of properly informing employees of their rights. Such contractual language, though legal, does not clearly communicate the extent of the employees' obligation to support the union. The NLRA as written simply does not reflect the true state of affairs, including the employee options of "financial core" membership.139 The NLRA should be amended to clarify all employee options under current law.