Wisconsin Union Dues Opt-Out Rule Violates Federal Law: 7th Cir.

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Wisconsin couldn’t change the rules for union-dues payroll deductions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Sept. 13.

The state’s Act 1 of 2015 said employees who signed authorizations for such payroll deductions could revoke them after 30 days. Under the federal Labor Management Relations Act, such checkoff authorizations may be made irrevocable for up to one year. Wisconsin’s law requiring the shorter, 30-day period violated federal law, the court said.

The court’s ruling leaves unions more breathing room than Wisconsin’s 30-day law. Under federal law, employees can revoke dues authorizations after a year, but the 12-month period makes unions less vulnerable to a cascade of checkoff cancellations or threats by employees who are suddenly unhappy with the union’s conduct. Requiring employees to wait a year before canceling their dues deductions will also likely give unions more confidence about estimating their financial strength and budgeting their operations.

Writing for the appeals court, Judge David F. Hamilton said the Wisconsin effort to shorten the period an employee had to wait to revoke a dues authorization is inconsistent with, and preempted by, federal law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a lower court order that enjoined the state from enforcing the provision.

Congress allowed unions to enforce checkoff authorizations, which he called “a convenient way for employees to pay their union dues,” but “Wisconsin is seeking to modify the terms of voluntary payroll deductions” that weren’t forced on employees by employers or unions, Hamilton wrote.

Federal law has long allowed employers and unions to bargain for checkoff arrangements that comply with the Labor Management Relations Act, and Wisconsin’s effort to impose its own limits on those arrangements is preempted by the federal law, the Seventh Circuit wrote.

Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner joined in the court’s opinion, but Judge Daniel A. Manion dissented. Manion said that while Congress may have permitted unions to negotiate limited checkoff agreements, he doesn’t believe the LMRA was “intended to prevent the States from further preserving an employee’s right to freedom of choice.” Calling the Wisconsin dispute an important case about “employee freedom from the union,” Manion concluded that the state “should be permitted to enforce its limitation on dues checkoff provisions.”

The Previant Law Firm in Milwaukee represented International Association of Machinists District 10. The Wisconsin solicitor general represented the state.

The case is Int’l Ass’n of Machinists District 10 v. Allen, 7th Cir., No. 17-1178, 9/13/18.

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