Paycheck Protection: Political Contributions

Paycheck protection refers to the rights of employees working under union contracts to refrain from paying any fees through payroll withholding other than those actually required for representation. In the private sector, these rights are sometimes referred to as "Beck" rights for the famous 1988 Supreme Court case that gave rise to them, Communications Workers of America v. Beck.

In Beck, it was held that a union cannot obligate an employee to support union activities other than "those germane to collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment."[177] This decision largely mirrored what had been previously decided in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.[178]

Several problems arose in the wake of the Beck decision. Many employees were unaware of their rights; some were forced to resign union membership and become fee-payers to exercise Beck rights; and where the rights were denied, there was little recourse.[179] Accordingly, a number of states, including Michigan, enacted their own laws to help implement the ideals of Beck, at least as it pertained to forced political contributions.

In 1994 the Michigan Legislature enacted several amendments to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.[180] These changes were designed to prohibit contributions to a labor organization’s separate segregated fund (often referred to as a political action committee, or PAC) from being required as a condition of employment or union membership. The amendments specifically prohibited contributions being obtained by "an automatic or passive basis including but not limited to a payroll deduction or plan or reverse checkoff method."[181] The 1994 changes have been upheld in the courts as a valid exercise of legislative power to protect the First Amendment rights of employees.[182]

While the Michigan law covered forced political contributions, it did not address the full range of non-workplace-related union expenditures or provide the transparency that would allow an employee to discover the full range of expenditures for which the dues were being used. Accordingly, while Michigan has a form of paycheck protection, it cannot be said that it has full paycheck protection.