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  • Writer's pictureRobert Lusk

MI Supreme Court Strikes Down Pay-for-Service by Public Sector Unions

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited public sector unions from requiring employees to join a union or pay an agency fee as a condition of employment.  Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, 585 U.S. 878 (2018).  Janus, and its limitation to the public sector, was based on the fact public sector unions lobby the government for political change and compelling non-members to subsidize such political speech was a violation of the First Amendment.  In response, many public sector unions adopted policies requiring non-members to pay separately for services such as processing grievances or filing unfair labor practice charges.  In April 2024, Michigan’s Supreme Court held such policies were illegal and unenforceable.  Technical, Professional, and Officeworkers Assoc. of Mich. v. Renner, Case No. 162601 (April 22, 2024).

Renner involved an employee who wanted to pursue a grievance against his employer.  He was not a member of the union and did not pay union dues or an agency fee.  The union declined to process his grievance because he also refused to pay the union separately to process his grievance.  The employee filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union and Michigan’s Employment Relations Commission (MERC) ruled in his favor.  The union appealed and Michigan’s Court of Appeals affirmed MERC’s decision.  The union then appealed to Michigan’s Supreme Court.

Michigan’s Supreme Court issued a lengthy opinion that began with a history of Michigan labor law, including developments that influenced the creation of unions’ duty of fair representation.  The Court also reviewed federal law, including a long line of decisions from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), holding that a union violated its duty of fair representation when it refused to process grievances for non-members who refused to pay special fees.  Based on these factors, the Court held that a Michigan public sector union that declined to process a grievance for a non-member because he had not paid a special assessment violated its duty of fair representation.

The Court noted its ruling did not apply to everything a public sector union did.  For example, public sector unions are not required to permit non-members to attend union meetings or vote in union elections.  The Court also noted the Michigan legislature could, if it wished, pass a law permitting public sector unions to charge non-members special assessments for processing grievances and filing unfair labor practice charges.  Undoubtedly, Michigan public sector unions are approaching their representatives as you are read this post.  It remains to be seen what, if anything, Michigan’s legislature will do.


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