You are free to choose whether to join and support a union. If you decide that union membership is not right for you, that’s okay. If the organization you work for has a collective bargaining agreement, you have a right to be represented fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination in all matters related to the agreement whether you are a union member or not.
A collective bargaining agreement is a legal document that outlines the terms of your employment. A typical bargaining agreement lays out pay scales and other benefits of employment, such as working hours, vacation, and sick leave.
Bargaining agreements for different professions can include additional terms that are relevant to the job being performed. For example, a bargaining agreement for teachers can also include working conditions in the classroom, evaluation procedures, professional development requirements, class size restrictions, rights to participate in curriculum decisions, and other educational policies.
This information applies to all public employees, but we often use teachers to illustrate points. It’s no secret they’re already undercompensated, and the extra money that goes to union membership often funds politics that they might not agree with. If you’re a teacher (or any type of public employee), your choice is your choice – our goal is to provide you with up-to-date facts so you can make an informed decision.
If you choose to opt out of your union — you cannot be denied any benefits under the labor contract with your organization because of your decision.
Your Rights as a Teacher / Public Employee
You have the power to decide whether union membership is right for you without fear of retaliation by a union or employer. Your employer must treat you fairly and cannot discriminate against you based on your decision. You have the right to join a union. You also have the right to leave one — it’s completely up to you.
If you join a union and later determine that the union’s values don’t align with your own, you can leave without any changes to your benefits or employment contract.
As a public employee, you also cannot lawfully be required to pay any union fees to keep your job. This was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018 in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (Janus v. AFSCM). You can read more about the case and the court’s ruling here.
Here’s a great resource to learn more about your rights for both private-sector employees and those who work for public agencies, like local, state, and federal governments.
If you believe your rights related to voluntary union membership are being violated, please contact your professional association, a public interest law firm, or an attorney.
Common Concerns with Opting Out of Labor Unions
If you have been thinking about opting out of union membership, you’ve likely encountered several concerns about negative consequences. These fallacies are designed to influence your decision.
Here are the most common concerns about dropping union membership, and the truths behind them:
“The union is the only thing protecting my job.”
Your basic rights as a public-sector employee are protected by your employment contract and law. If you don’t feel represented by the union, support is available to you from other professional organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) for healthcare professionals or the American Public Works Association (APWA) for public works laborers. One professional organization that’s relevant to teachers is the American Association of Educators (AAE).
“The only way I can get liability insurance is through the union.”
The union is not the only source for liability insurance. There are non-union professional organizations, like the American Association of Educators, that offer coverage which is often better and less expensive than coverage provided by the union.
“My peers will think I’m selfish if I choose to leave the union.”
Thousands of teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees just like you have exercised their rights to opt out of union membership in order to advocate for policy changes, their peers, and their profession.
It’s possible the union may try to deter you from leaving by threatening to share the names of workers who opt out. In 2014, a local United Auto Workers chapter in Michigan published a list of ex-members. However, singling out workers in this way does not appear to have deterred others from leaving the union and may have actually persuaded more people to opt out.
“If I leave the union, I will lose my health insurance, seniority, and tenure.”
No, you won’t. Benefits like health insurance, vision and dental insurance, and retirement savings are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. As a result, you will not lose these benefits if you decide to leave the union.
For teachers and other public employees, resigning from a union does not affect your seniority or tenure and you cannot be fired because of your decision to resign union membership.
Union membership is your choice. Opting out is easy. Exercise your rights today!