MI Union Uses Photo ID to Skirt Right to Work

Complaint comes days after NLRB nixes similar policy at UAW

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers members stand outside the capitol in Lansing, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers members stand outside the capitol in Lansing, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 / AP
April 8, 2015

A Michigan electrical worker filed formal labor charges against a major union because of onerous withdrawal procedures implemented in response to the passage of right to work laws.

Ryan Greene, a worker at Croswell-based Paramount Industries, said in a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board that IBEW Local 58 violated his rights as a worker because it requires him to present photo identification in order to withdraw from the union and cease paying union dues.

"These and related acts and omissions violate the [National Labor Relations Act], and threaten, restrain, coerce and discriminate against all of the employees in all bargaining units represented by Respondent Union in the exercise of their section 7 rights to refrain from collective activity," the complaint says.

IBEW Local 58 represents about 4,500 electrical workers in the greater Detroit area and collects about $9.7 million per year in dues. The union adopted new withdrawal procedures in October 2014, a year after Michigan became the 24th right to work state in the country.

"Any member that desires to opt out of membership or dues deduction must do so in person at the Union Hall of IBEW Local 58 and show picture identification with a corresponding written request specifically indicating the intent of the member," the policy says.

IBEW did not respond to requests for comment.

Right to work ends coercive union dues by giving employees the right to cease dues payments and withdraw from union. That could mean bad news for labor unions, which rely on dues payments to operate and develop negotiating leverage. Local 58 developed the photo ID requirement in order to avoid fraud, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

However, Greene said the union has kept the withdrawal system under wraps, misleading employees about their ability to opt out of membership. He is now being forced to remain in the union, rather than exercise his rights to sever ties with IBEW.

"Charging Party was never informed of this policy and just learned of it when it was disclosed as part of an arbitration the Union is holding to force him to continue being a member and pay union dues as a condition of employment," the complaint says.

IBEW is not the only Michigan union that has come under fire for its photo identification policy: UAW Local 600 is in the process of settling a similar complaint with the NLRB

Despite the fact that the union has declared Voter ID laws onerous and burdensome, the massive Dearborn-based union also required photo identification from members looking to pull away. The settlement obtained by the Washington Free Beacon says that the union will "rescind [its] policy" of making members "appear in person at our Local office and present proper identification."

The case reached the NLRB after autoworker Kathileen Sulkowski complained that the photo ID policy unfairly forced her into the union. UAW Local 600, which did not respond to an email seeking comment, plans to "make whole Kathileen Sulkowski, and any other similarly affected employees, for any financial loss, as a result of our restriction."

Under the terms of the settlement, the union must post signs around its offices informing employees of their right to withdraw.

"WE WILL NOT do anything to prevent you from exercising the above rights," the sign will say. "WE WILL NOT in any like or related manner restrain or coerce you."

Greene may have a good case against IBEW because of the additional barriers to cutting union ties, according to an attorney familiar with the withdrawal process. The attorney spoke to the Washington Free Beacon on condition of anonymity because the cases are ongoing.

"IBEW goes even further than UAW. Not only do you have to show up with ID to resign, but also to sign the dues deduction form," the attorney said.

Published under: Unions