LMRA preempts Wisconsin law prohibiting dues checkoff authorizations unless revocable on 30 days’ notice

Filed under: News |

By Joy Waltemath

By Ronald Miller, J.D.

A Wisconsin statute which classified dues checkoff authorizations as an unfair labor practice unless they were terminable by the employee on 30 days’ written notice was preempted by the LMRA, ruled a federal district court in Wisconsin. Relying on SeaPak v. Indus., Tech. & Prof’l Emp., Div. of Nat’l Mar. Union, AFL-CIO, the court determined that the Wisconsin law was not compatible with the LMRA’s allowance for irrevocable authorizations not to exceed one year. Accordingly, summary judgment was granted in favor of the union (International Association of Machinists, District 10 and Local Lodge 873 v. Allen, December 27, 2016, Conley, W.).

The Machinists union represented employees at a John Deere plant in Wisconsin. It is a party to a collective bargaining agreement with John Deere that became effective on October 1, 2015. The CBA included a dues checkoff provision. Among the employees represented by the union was an assembler in the bargaining unit. In November 2002, she signed an authorization to have union dues deducted from her wages, which continued in effect under the 2015 CBA. The authorization states that it was irrevocable for 1 year or until the termination of the CBA between the employer and the union, whichever occurred sooner.

Checkoff revocation. In July 2015, the employee sent a letter to John Deere stating that she no longer wished to pay union dues. Invoking Wisconsin’s “Right to Work” law, Section 9 of 2015 Wisconsin Act 1, the letter explained that she was now allowed to terminate her dues checkoff authorization on 30 days’ written notice, rather than having to wait until the end of the year of the authorization’s life. The union advised the employee that her request would not be granted because it was not presented during the narrow 15-day window leading up to the annual contract renewal.

Thereafter, the employee filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) alleging that “union dues were taken out after opting out of the union.” A DWD investigator found that the dues taken from the employee’s paycheck after she submitted her withdrawal were “unauthorized and illegal.” Under the Wisconsin statute, the deduction was illegal unless the employee’s signed authorization was terminable by giving at least 30 days’ written notice to the employer. John Deere subsequently reimbursed the employee for the union dues deducted from her check. The union filed this lawsuit.

After this suit was filed, the DWD received a second complaint from a member of the UFCW union stating that he wished to revoke his dues checkoff authorization upon 30 days’ notice. The DWD rejected preemption arguments made by an employer, and again concluded that the Wisconsin Right to Work law prohibited any dues checkoff authorization that was not terminable by the employee on 30 days’ notice.

Preemption challenge. The union challenged the Right-to-Work law provision that prohibited dues checkoff authorizations unless revocable upon 30 days’ notice by employee. According to the union, the state law prohibition was preempted by Sec. 302(c)(4) of the LMRA, which expressly permits dues checkoff authorizations so long as the deductions are not “irrevocable [by the employee] for a period of more than one year.”

SeaPak controls. In SeaPak, a district court determined that a similar Georgia state statute regulating duration of dues checkoff agreements was preempted by federal labor law. Without discussion, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed that decision, and SeaPak has not been overruled. The state argued that the SeaPak decision relied solely on the doctrine of conflict preemption in deciding that the Georgia statute was preempted. However, the court here found that SeaPak expressly discussed and relied on both conflict and field preemption. The SeaPak court held that “[t]he area of checkoff of union dues has been federally occupied to such an extent under 301 that no room remains for state regulation in the same field.” The jurisdiction statement filed with the Supreme Court likewise confirmed that both field and conflict preemption were at issue in SeaPak.

Those issues having been presented and decided by the Supreme Court, the SeaPak decision controls this case. Moreover, the state pointed to no significant doctrinal developments that undermine SeaPak’s conclusion that the NLRA occupies the field of dues checkoff authorizations. It also cited no cases that directly undermined SeaPak’s analysis of conflict preemption.

Obstacle to federal objectives. Further, contrary to the state’s assertion, conflict preemption can exist regardless of whether compliance with state and federal law is impossible, if the state law stands “as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” Thus, a state law limiting the irrevocability of dues checkoff agreements to 30 days directly conflicts with the federal law permitting unions to bargain for longer periods of irrevocability. Consistent with SeaPak and the numerous court decisions that have followed it, Wisconsin’s law regulating dues checkoff agreements does not come within the Sec. 14(b) exception to federal preemption, and it is preempted both because it overlaps with, and is in conflict with, federal regulation under the LMRA. Accordingly, Wisconsin’s dues checkoff authorization provision is preempted.

Source:: Employment Law Daily Newsfeed


List your business in the premium web directory for free This website is listed under Human Resources Directory