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Latest News - April 2015

April 29, 2015
UAW members get information on how to leave union
By: Nathan Bomey

About three dozen UAW workers gathered today in Sterling Heights to get advice on how leave the union or stop paying dues after Michigan's right-to-work law starts applying to the Detroit-based union.

The meeting, the first of two scheduled today, came as the UAW was gearing up to begin the first round of contract bargaining negotiations with General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles since Michigan's right-to-work law took effect in 2013.

It's the first cycle in which UAW members can refuse to pay full union dues and still keep their jobs because the law applies only to newly signed contracts.

Labor experts don't expect a rush of workers seeking to leave the union — particularly in light of a prolonged period of industry stability and profit-sharing checks worth thousands of dollars a year for UAW members. The union has gained members nationwide for five straight years, topping 400,000 last year for the first time since 2008.

But labor experts are still watching closely to see whether the UAW suffers a blow as the right-to-work law takes effect in the union's backyard.

"The impulse of the union is to discourage you from hearing this information," right-to-work activist and Ford plant worker Brian Pannebecker told a group of UAW members at a conference center in Sterling Heights. "They don't want you to know these things because it might impact their revenue stream, which is your dues money."

Pannebecker said UAW members should threaten to stop paying their dues to force the union's international leaders to be more responsive to member needs. He said many members are upset at the union's recent decision to increase dues and to take liberal political stands.

"Whether they want to admit it or not, there's a significant number of people in the union membership who are not happy with what's going on," he said.

A UAW spokesperson did not immediately comment.

The right-to-work law makes it illegal for employers to require workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Workers who choose not to pay dues lose the right to vote on union contracts, but the union is still legally required to represent them in conflicts with the company.

It's, at best, unclear whether disgruntled workers will organize a rush to the exit — and perhaps unlikely in the state where the UAW was born.

"I appreciate what you're doing here — I'm just trying to wonder why aren't there more people here," one attendee asked.

Bill Messenger, a labor law attorney with the Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, offered to provide assistance to workers who need help exercising their rights. He flew to Michigan to provide information to workers, but emphasized that he's not making any official recommendations.

The law requires employers to provide the same compensation and benefits to all employees, even if they aren't members of a union.

"A union cannot restrict the right of a union member to resign their union membership," Messenger said.

Pannebecker took pains to emphasize that he appreciates the gains unions have delivered for the American middle class.

"This is not an effort to destroy the unions or get rid of the unions at all," he said. "This is an effort to use the collective bargaining process to our advantage as best we can. I think we need to send the union a signal."



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