The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is filing a lawsuit on behalf of four city of Dearborn employees against Teamsters Local 214 over the union's misreading of Michigan's right-to-work law. The union recently adopted a policy that would require non-union member employees to pay for the processing of filing grievances. The right-to-work law clearly states that no employee has to financially support a union as a condition of employment.
CASE UPDATE: The lawsuit forced the Teamsters to abandon a policy that discriminated against nonmembers.
On Dec. 11, 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Public Acts 348 and 349, giving employees the right to retain their jobs without having to financially support a union. The “freedom-to-work” laws (also called right-to-work) apply to both private- and public-sector employees and went into effect March 28, 2013. Specifically, the law says no individual should have to “pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount,” as a condition of obtaining or keeping employment.
That is not how Teamsters Local 214, however, has interpreted the law. The union, which represents employees of the city of Dearborn, believes non-union member employees should have to pay for the processing of their grievances. To wield greater power, unions request “exclusive representation” over employees in the represented bargaining unit. In Michigan, this is the law for employees in public-sector unions. This representation applies to union members and non-members alike in the bargaining unit.
Teamsters Local 214 does not even allow individual employees to arbitrate a grievance or go to a department head or higher unless he or she goes exclusively through the union. The union wants non-union members to pay for this grievance representation out of their own pockets. The union, however, has a legal obligation — based on seven decades of Supreme Court case law and five decades of Michigan labor law — to represent all the members covered by its contract equally and without discrimination. This is indisputable in the private sector where the National Labor Relations Board has unequivocally stated that what the Teamsters are doing here would be illegal.
The most recent contract between Teamsters Local 214 and the city of Dearborn expired June 30, 2010. When Michigan’s right-to-work law took effect at the end of March, four employees chose to exercise their worker freedom rights and declined to continue paying the Teamsters. They received little guidance from their union or the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. They managed to resign by using a form resignation letter they found at www.miworkerfreedom.org. Three of these employees had been full dues-paying union members. The fourth employee had been previously asked to resign from the union in 2007 after she voiced complaints and questioned the union’s leadership and direction. After resigning from the union, she had still been required to pay the union’s “agency fee.” All four employees believed that once they exercised their worker freedom rights, they would no longer have to pay the Teamsters any dues or fees, as the law states.
On June 10, 2013, the executive board of Teamsters Local 214 adopted a policy “affecting members of bargaining unions [sic] who opt out of paying union dues.” The policy states that the union will “routinely charge individuals for the actual cost of grievance processing and arbitration” in addition to a flat fee of $150, and unspecified additional fees, or “one-half of the cost of the arbitrator and outside counsel, whichever is less.” The policy states that employees must pay these fees in advance.
The workers contacted the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation because they believe Teamsters Local 214 is circumventing the letter and the spirit of our state’s law and Supreme Court precedence. The plaintiffs have no confidence that, even if they paid this fee, the union would handle any potential grievance they might file in good faith. The employees must still, by law, surrender their right to speak on their own behalf regarding terms and conditions of employment, and unless this changes, the workers believe they should not be obligated to pay for what the union is required by law to do on behalf of all members who are forced to be part of the bargaining unit.
Shawn Koskyn, Maria Santiago-Powell and Greg Andrews have each worked for the city of Dearborn in jobs represented by Teamsters Local 214 for at least 11 years. All except Maria Santiago-Powell resigned from the union after Michigan’s right-to-work law went into effect. The employees have paid their union thousands of dollars over the years and feel they have gotten little in return. Santiago-Powell had already been asked to resign from the union after disagreeing with Teamster leadership. None of them have a strong history of filing grievances, but all feel that they have paid the union more than enough money over the years to cover costs of a grievance filing. According to filings with the U.S. Department of Labor, nationwide the Teamsters and its locals collect about $1 billion a year in revenue in private-sector employee representation alone. In Michigan, all unions representing public-sector employees are required by law to file an audit with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission revealing their income and expenditures. No such audit from Teamsters Local 214 can be found on the Michigan Employment Relations Commission website.
When labor unions have “exclusive representation,” they are granted a valuable monopoly. The union has the power to be the sole bargaining agent for a group of employees. In exchange for this monopoly, all the union must do by law is represent all employees in this group without discrimination. Local 214 wants to treat non-union employees under their control differently. These non-union employees are workers exercising their right under Michigan law to opt out of paying a fee to the union — but they are not completely free of its grip. Because of “exclusive representation,” the union has full control of bargaining over the employees’ wages, benefits and working conditions. Workers are also not free to arbitrate with their employer or take their grievance to a department head on their own. Instead, they must go through the union using the grievance process outlined in the union contract.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1944, in a case involving racial discrimination by a union, recognized that when employees are unionized they lose the power to act on their own behalf and that the union gets to speak and act on the employees’ behalf. Because unions receive this broad power, they have the commensurate responsibility to represent all members under their control fairly and without discrimination. Even though right-to-work became possible in 1947 under the federal Labor Management Relations Act, unions still found this bargain lucrative and to their advantage. In Michigan, for five decades, the courts have held that public-sector unions must represent all employees under their control fairly and without discrimination, including grievance representation. Teamsters Local 214 wants to set aside all of this precedent because the “bargain” isn’t quite as good for them as it once was, even though they still have the lucrative monopoly on representing our plaintiffs and all other employees in their bargaining unit.
Our plaintiffs are asking the Wayne County Circuit Court to void the policy of Teamsters Local 214, which charges non-union members who are forced to adhere to the collective bargaining agreement a fee to process grievances.
Following the MCLF lawsuit, the Teamsters Local 214 filed paperwork in Wayne County Circuit Court to indicate that it abandoned the discriminatory policy meant to punish those who exercise their worker freedom rights. The Teamsters told the court that it “admits the policy…is no longer in effect” and posted a modified policy that stated “any charges the Union will require related to the processing of grievances will be assessed on a non-discriminatory basis”.