Can You Leave a Union and Come Back?

For many public employees, including public school teachers, being part of a union is a significant aspect of their professional lives. Unions advocate for their members’ rights, negotiate collective bargaining agreements, and work towards improving workplace conditions. However, there might come a time when a member considers leaving the union, possibly due to personal beliefs, financial considerations, or other reasons. But what happens if you decide to leave your union and later wish to return? This article explores the intricacies of leaving and rejoining a union, with a particular focus on educators.

The Decision to Opt Out

Choosing to leave a union is a personal decision that can be influenced by various factors. Some members might opt out due to financial reasons, such as the need to save on union dues. Others might disagree with the union’s stance on certain issues or feel that their personal beliefs are not aligned with the union’s actions.

“If you work for a local, state or federal government entity – a public school district, city hall, a state agency or another government body – you have the right to decide whether you want to be a member of a union at your workplace. If you decide union membership isn’t for you, then you are not obligated to pay the union at your workplace any kind of dues or fees.” — Liberty Justice Center

Opting out of union membership is not merely a financial decision but a profound statement of individual autonomy and belief. Many choose to leave their unions due to ideological differences, dissatisfaction with union policies, or the desire to reclaim control over their professional career.

“At its core, [Janus] is about ensuring that workers have a choice and their voices are heard. Everyone should have the freedom to decide whether to pay a union, and no one should fear losing their job for exercising that choice.” — Steve Delie, attorney and director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

The Implications of Leaving

Leaving a union can be liberating, offering a sense of independence and the satisfaction of aligning your professional affiliations with your personal beliefs. However, it’s important to fully understand the implications:

  1. Financial Independence: Leaving a union means reclaiming your dues, providing financial relief and the freedom to allocate your hard-earned money as you see fit, rather than contributing to a collective pot used in ways you might not support.
  2. Professional Autonomy: Without union constraints, public employees, including teachers, can negotiate their contracts, advocate for their interests, and make career decisions based on personal merit and preferences.
  3. Ideological Alignment: For some, departing from a union can align with broader political and social beliefs, emphasizing individual choice and responsibility over collective action.

“Public sector workers have a constitutional right to not join a labor union. They cannot be discriminated against for that choice. If you choose to resign your membership, you cannot lose pay or benefits or be harmed by your employer for making that choice.” — Jarrett Skorup, Mackinac Center

Can You Leave A Union and Come Back?

Whether you can leave a union and later rejoin depends on several factors including the specific union’s rules, the labor laws in your state, and the policies of the workplace.

  1. Union Bylaws: Every union has its set of rules governing membership. These bylaws outline the process for leaving the union and the conditions under which a member can reapply. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these rules before making any decisions.
  2. Labor Laws: The legal landscape in your state plays a significant role. Labor laws vary widely and can affect your rights and obligations regarding union membership and rejoining after leaving.
  3. Collective Bargaining Agreements: For public school teachers, the terms of the CBA might have specific clauses about union membership, including implications for those who leave and wish to return.
  4. Workplace Policies: Some educational institutions might have their policies regarding union membership, which could impact your ability to rejoin after leaving.

If you decide to rejoin your union, the first step is to review the union’s bylaws. There might be a formal reapplication process, which could include:

  • Filling out membership application forms
  • Paying any back dues or fees to rejoin
  • Meeting specific criteria laid out by the union

The nature of your workplace can also affect your decision. In a closed shop, union membership might be a condition of employment, making the process of leaving and rejoining more complex. In an open shop environment like public school systems, where union membership isn’t mandatory for employment, rejoining might be more straightforward.

Before making any decisions, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of leaving the union and to consider the long-term implications of your decision. Seeking advice from labor law experts, exploring alternatives to union membership, and talking with your colleagues can provide valuable insights.

The bottom line

As a public employee considering your union membership, the decision to leave is a profound step towards personal freedom and professional autonomy. This choice can align with your principles of individualism and fiscal responsibility, opening the door to a more engaged and personal approach to your career and contributions to public service. Navigating these complex considerations, it’s crucial that your decision to join or leave a union reflects your deepest values and convictions, free from external pressures, and aligns with what you believe is the best path forward in your professional life. Remember, every situation is unique, and what works for you might not be suitable for someone else.