Opinion: Give state workers more control over union dues deductions

Jase Bolger

The Supreme Court ruled in its 2018 Janus decision that governmental employers cannot compel public employees to financially support unions without their prior voluntary consent. That workers should control their own paycheck is sensible and anything but radical. After Janus, the Michigan Civil Service Commission removed the process for payroll deduction of dues and fees from union contracts and entrusted commission staff to redesign and modernize it.

The old system, where authorizations on paper forms submitted by unions could languish for months or disappear, was replaced. Now, state civil servants can authorize or deauthorize deductions online or through a call center. Changes can be made year-round and take effect the next pay period. Employees and unions receive immediate confirmation of processed changes and records are properly retained.

State civil servants can authorize or deauthorize deductions online or through a call center, Bolger writes.

Thousands of employees have used this system to make changes in deductions since last year, but further reforms should be made to improve this process, empower employees and ensure individual rights are protected. 

Many state employees currently pay fees to unions without any record of the consent Janus now specifically requires. Before Janus, fees could be unilaterally imposed when employees refused to authorize dues; those who did authorize fees did so on forms that do not comply with Janus. Critics of the proposed reforms have not explained how the status quo could ever be acceptable under Janus. It simply must be fixed.

A second reform would provide employees annual notice of their rights to join or not join, and support or not support the union exclusively representing their bargaining unit. Janus requires that consent be freely and knowingly given. 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.

Regularly providing this information would ensure that every employee’s consent is informed. 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 proposal would also require annual reauthorization for deductions. Under the proposal, once a year employees would have to spend 60 seconds online or a few minutes on the phone to provide this authorization. While critics portray reauthorization as anti-worker, it merely ensures that employees are aware of and sign off on the continued deduction of dues and fees, which vary from around $400 to $2,000 per year depending on employees’ wages. The proposal would empower employees to control that decision each year on the use of their own money.

While it’s predictable that union organizations would want to keep their money flowing by not having employees provide annual consent, claims that the proposal is anti-worker are demonstrably false.

Further, excuses that workers’ rights should not be protected because of the novel coronavirus are misguided at best. The state currently faces significant budgetary shortfalls. Some might ask whether facilitating funding for state unions is a core governmental function where limited resources should be dedicated now. Other unions representing public employee have found methods to handle dues collection without taxpayer expense, allowing those tax dollars to serve our citizens rather than special interests.

Jase Bolger

To the extent that the state continues to use its resources to collect dues and fees, I strongly believe that we should ensure that all our hard-working state employees know and understand their rights, and that any deductions from their hard-earned paychecks continue to reflect their wishes — each and every year.

Jase Bolger served as Speaker of the Michigan House from 2011-14. He currently serves on the Michigan Civil Service Commission.