The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals just dealt a slight blow to Wisconsin’s 2015 “right to work law” by finding that the provision governing the law’s abbreviated time period for revoking authorization for union dues deductions was preempted under federal labor law.
The Wisconsin law prohibited the common practice of automatic dues checkoff authorizations – which allows employers to automatically deduct union dues from the paychecks of employees who provide authorization – unless employees were able to revoke their authorization within 30 days. This provision of the Wisconsin law conflicted with the federal Labor Management Relations Act, which provides that employers and unions may agree to automatic dues checkoff authorizations that are irrevocable for up to an entire year.
The 7th Circuit concluded that Wisconsin’s 30-day revocation period was preempted by the federal law. Federal law allows employers and unions to bargain over checkoff arrangements as long as they comply with federal law. The Court determined that Wisconsin’s 30-day revocation period amounted to an impermissible “attempt to add additional regulatory requirements for dues-checkoffs, and thus to change the scope of permissible collective bargaining.”
This decision will undoubtedly be hailed as a victory for unions, as the longer revocation period insulates unions from a barrage of sudden checkoff cancellations and may stabilize financial and budgetary projections. It also demonstrates another tactic that foes of “right to work” legislation can employ nation-wide: rather than challenging the entire law as a whole, they can chip away provision by provision in the courts, arguing conflict with federal labor law.
However, there is a bright side for employers as well, as this decision indicates that courts are inclined to protect the freedom of employers to engage in bargaining with unions over dues checkoffs and other important aspects of the collective bargaining relationship.