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How To Stop Paying Union Dues

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees workers the right to create and join unions. Although union membership has been declining, many unions represent millions of workers in America. Labor unions fight for improved wages, benefits, and working conditions. 

There are also laws to protect individual union members' rights and guard against corruption within the labor organization itself. Some of these laws relate to an employee's right to opt out of the fees unions charge for their services.

Read on to learn more about these laws and how to stop paying union dues if you choose to opt out.

Reasons to Opt Out of Paying Union Dues

Being a union member can have benefits. Unions negotiate for higher wages, more benefits, and better working conditions for workers using collective bargaining. A union member can have more job security and support through a union.

Unions charge fees to pay for these services, which you might have to pay whether you're a union member or not. Workers are beginning to realize they might not have to pay part of or all of these dues, depending on the laws that apply to them.

The reasons for opting out of paying dues vary but might include any of the following:

  • Political: Your union may support political causes and candidates with which you disagree, although this is stated to be not permitted by unions.
  • Religious: Some members may object on religious grounds to union membership or specific causes their union advocates for.
  • Corruption Concerns: Reports of corruption, embezzlement, racketeering, or other wrongdoing within your labor organization may trouble you.
  • Personal Preference: Maybe you prefer not to pay dues because you're a union member, or you don't think the union represents your interests, and you're struggling to get by.

How To Stop Paying Union Dues: Right-to-Work States

Over half of the states have right-to-work laws. These laws often state that union membership and the payment of union dues can't be a required condition of employment. 

In these states, unions and employers can't have union contracts that only agree to hire union workers. They also cannot demand automatic deduction of union dues from their employees' paychecks. An employee who doesn't pay dues but still benefits from union activities is called a free rider.

If you live in a right-to-work state and wish to stop paying dues, notify the union and your employer in writing that you are resigning as a union member and canceling your dues payment. If you signed an authorization for your employer to deduct dues from your paycheck, you might only have a small window each year to revoke this authorization. Check with your union to determine what that time frame is.

As of 2024, 26 states have right-to-work laws. Michigan was the first state to repeal its law.

How To Stop Paying Union Dues: Other States

Regardless of where you live, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that you have the legal right to resign union membership at any time. If you don't work in a right-to-work state, unions can still force you to pay fees similar to union dues, called agency fees or fair share fees, even if you are not a union member

All employees benefit from collective bargaining agreements and contract administration, regardless of union membership status. Despite that, you may still have a right to pay reduced fees as a non-member.

For example, you can object to fees for anything unrelated to the costs of collective bargaining, such as things like political campaigns or the advancement of causes against your religion. In these cases, the union may only charge you for your share of the costs of collective bargaining. 

To pay the reduced fee, send a letter to the union stating that you object to paying for more than your share of the collective bargaining expense. Request a copy of the union's procedural requirements for opting out of these fees.

In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion. You may decline union membership and fee payments based on your religious beliefs. Many state laws include opt-out provisions, which let you divert your fees to specific charities instead.

How To Stop Paying Union Dues: Public Sector Employees

In Janus v. AFSCME (2018), the Supreme Court ruled that public sector employees can work without being a member of a union, paying union dues, or agency fees. The Janus decision states that public sector unions cannot require non-union government workers to pay union fees as a condition for working in public service. 

Under the Janus ruling, public sector employees now have the same rights as private sector employees in right-to-work states. Janus granted the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association to public school teachers, first responders, and other workers for public employers.

If you are a public employee who wishes to opt out of union membership, dues, and fees, you should ask your union representative for the requirements.

Know and Defend Your Rights With the Help of an Attorney

Many labor laws provide employee protections, but knowing which ones apply to you can be confusing. The window for lodging objections or filing a complaint against a union or employer can be narrow.

If you want to stop paying union dues or need help defending your other rights as an employee, contact a local labor or employment law attorney. An attorney can guide you and provide legal advice.

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