NLRB Strikes Down MI Union's Photo ID Policy

Bipartisan majority says IBEW's procedures restrict resignations

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
February 13, 2017

The nation's top labor arbiter struck down a Michigan union's attempt to skirt right-to-work laws in a bipartisan ruling.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled 2-1 that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 58 violated the rights of members by requiring them to present photo IDs to resign their membership. Republican Chairman Philip Miscimarra and Democratic boardmember Lauren McFerran declared that such a policy ran afoul a worker's right to withdraw from a union without a significant burden.

"The challenged policy communicates the Union’s intention to make resignation more difficult for members than it had been, and it imposes a significant burden on union members who wish to exercise that right," the majority ruled. "The Board has also long held that a union’s mere maintenance of a rule restricting member resignations is unlawful."

Local 58 did not return requests for comment.

The case began in 2014 when Ryan Greene, a worker at Croswell-based Paramount Industries, objected to new rules adopted by the union in the wake of Michigan adopting right to work, which forbids companies from making union membership a condition of employment. The new rules required union members to show up at union headquarters and present photo identification in order to withdraw. Greene lived two hours from the union hall and filed an NLRB complaint in 2015 claiming that the union obstructed his ability to cease dues payments.

The union, which had condemned voter identification laws in the past, argued that such a policy protected workers from identity theft and that the procedure was not burdensome. Board member Mark Gaston Pearce, a union lawyer who served as NLRB chairman under President Obama, agreed that the procedure was within the bounds of law in his dissent.

"The procedures delineated in the policy are not restrictions on union resignation and employees would not read them as such; rather, they are reasonable procedures by which members can securely resign their membership," he said. "This procedure is as quick as, if not quicker than rules requiring signed and mailed member resignations, which my colleagues must acknowledge are lawful."

The majority rejected Pearce's conclusions about the rules, as well as his contention that the union's continue dues collection unless a worker appeared in person to cancel paycheck deductions. Such a policy exceeded the union's authority because it did not obtain consent from workers.

"The Respondent simply had no authority to unilaterally impose any restriction on the revocation of dues checkoff, much less the 'in person'/'picture identification' or 'other arrangements' requirements reflected in its policy," the majority found. "There is no suggestion that any individual member, much less all members, had agreed to the policy. It follows, then, that by unilaterally imposing new requirements, the Respondent unlawfully restrained members in revoking their dues checkoff authorizations."

Glenn Taubman, an attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said that the majority ruling upheld decades of precedent in labor law. He said the timing of the policy reflected the political aims of the union and was surprised by Pearce's "unprecedented dissent against employee rights."

"The union’s policy was a clear attempt to undermine the right to work law," Taubman said. "Liberals hate photo IDs when it comes to voting, but they tried to impose that same scheme here to thwart resignations and the right to work."

The union must rescind the policy and notify the regional office of the NLRB that it is complying with the order within two weeks, though it still has the ability to appeal the ruling in federal court.