Freedom Foundation

Michigan approves dues deduction rules supported by Freedom Foundation

Last month, the Michigan Civil Service Commission approved new regulations governing the deduction of union dues from state workers’ paychecks. The changes were intended to align the state’s system with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

In the ruling, the justices held that state laws requiring public employees to pay union dues/fees as a condition of employment violate the First Amendment. Though Michigan passed a right-to-work law ending compulsory union dues payments in 2013, Janus went further by establishing that certain criteria must be satisfied before a government employer can withhold union dues from an employees’ wages.

Specifically,

“Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay. By agreeing to pay, nonmembers are waiving their First Amendment rights, and such a waiver cannot be presumed. Rather, to be effective, the waiver must be freely given and shown by ‘clear and compelling’ evidence. Unless employees clearly and affirmatively consent before any money is taken from them, this standard cannot be met.” (internal citations omitted)

Under Michigan’s right-to-work law, a state worker only needed to sign up for union membership once and remained enrolled until deciding to opt out. However, in the wake of Janus, many unions have implemented policies and restrictions to make the resignation process intentionally difficult. Many employees are also unaware of their rights.

The new rules adopted by the Commission in July, however, require that state workers be provided with annual notice of their First Amendment right “to join or not join” a union. They further require that state employees’ dues deduction authorizations expire after one year, giving employees an annual opportunity to re-evaluate their union’s performance and decide whether to sign up for another year.

In written comments submitted to the Commission, the Freedom Foundation enthusiastically supported the proposed regulations and urged it to proceed with their adoption. While the final rules didn’t go as far as they could have in some respects, they represent a vast improvement and will give Michigan’s state workers more control over their paychecks and workplace representation.

Predictably, unions and some state officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, blasted the rule change but, in an op-ed for the Detroit News, Commissioner Jase Bolger defended the reforms, arguing:

“That workers should control their own paycheck is sensible and anything but radical…

Critics of the proposed reforms have not explained how the status quo could ever be acceptable under Janus. It simply must be fixed…

Thousands of state employees have deductions in place from the last century when their legal rights were very different and severely limited compared to the power over their own paycheck that they now have…

Helping employees understand their rights is anything but negative for employees. The government should ensure they can easily exercise their rights, not presume they wish to endlessly waive them.”

The vote to approve the rules — which will cover tens of thousands of state workers in Michigan, but not municipal public employees — was 3-1. Barring a threatened legal challenge from unions, the rules will take effect on September 1.

Adoption of the rules adds Michigan to a growing list of states — including Alaska, Texas and Indiana — acting to protect public employees’ rights under Janus and the First Amendment by reforming the union dues deduction process.