WASHINGTON, D.C. - An Oct. 26 ruling by a U.S. administrative law judge in a case before the National Labor Relations Board settles, at least for now, one of the most basic issues involving Michigan's nearly three-year-old right to work law.
The case revolves around a complaint by an IBEW Local 58 member, that the union violated the law by having a rule in place that requires persons resigning from the union under the state's right-to-work law “to resign in writing, in person, and show identification.” The union rule further says that if the procedure “poses an undue hardship, he or she may contact the union hall and make any other arrangements to verify identity.”
National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge David I. Goldman upheld the union's seemingly unrestrictive rule. In his 12-page ruling the judge said “the mere maintenance of this policy does not, on its face, amount to restraint or coercion prohibited by Section 8(b)(1)(A)” of federal labor law. He went on to question “does this policy 'restrict' resignation on its face?” And he answered, "it does not, in any way that the term has ever been understood heretofore.”
IBEW Local 58 Business Manager Mike Richard said "our rule was just a reasonable procedure that was established to allow members to resign or cancel their dues obligations if they wanted to move into free rider status. And, an independent judge agreed with us. We are pleased that our union prevailed in pushing back the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation."
The case against the union was taken up by federal lawyers for National Labor Relations Board, and it got some juice from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a group dedicated to the expansion of right-to-work laws in the U.S. The foundation, as it did in this case, offers free financial backing to test legal cases when it could further its anti-union agenda.
At trial, the government attorney maintained that the union's law is "unlawful on its face," because federal labor law says a union cannot prescribe any "particular method" for a member to resign or cancel dues check off. That was about it for their argument: the judge noted that the federal lawyer's case at trial involved no witness, and, in addition to the formal papers, the introduction of only one exhibit into evidence: a copy of the policy. The federal lawyer then rested.
In his ruling, Judge Goldman acknowledged that "some union resignation rules" have been found to be "squarely invalid and unenforceable," but "this has never been the case with a rule, such as this one, that is limited to the designation of facially non-coercive procedures for effectuating the resignation/revocation."
The judge added: "in particular, unions are afforded wide latitude in promulgating rules governing their internal union affairs."
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation saw the case as the union "using intimidation and coercion to stop workers from exercising their rights" under Michigan's right to work law. "Union officials continue to pull out all the stops to prevent workers from exercising their rights under Michigan's Right to Work law," said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Foundation. "IBEW union officials' latest tactic requiring workers to show up in person and furnish photo identification is designed to dissuade or intimidate them from exercising their rights to refrain from membership."
The union’s rule didn’t seem unreasonable or intimidating to the judge.
In adopting the rule requiring ID, IBEW Local 58 pointed out in its legal brief that the union has the rule in place in part to protect members against fraud and identity theft.
Responding to the claims of anti-labor advocates that the rule undermined the union’s opposition to the use of voter IDs at the ballot box that have been enacted by Republican legislatures throughout the country, Richard responded: “Using voter ID, which many people do not possess, to deny minorities and the poor from voting and participating in our democracy is very different from requiring our well-paid members, all of whom have photo identification, to show it, or an alternative, so we can verify that it is not an impersonator canceling their membership in the union.”