Why do I need an opt out letter?

Writing and submitting an opt out letter can be an intimidating part of leaving a union, but it doesn’t have to be. If you decide that union membership isn’t right for you, sending an opt out letter is a necessary step if you want the union to stop deducting dues from your paycheck.

Below we’ll explain the importance of an opt out letter, what your letter should include, and guide you through the process of filling it out and sending it to your union.

What is an opt out letter?

An opt out letter is a formal way of notifying your union that you no longer wish to be a member. Think of an opt out letter like a resignation letter that you would provide to your employer when you decide to leave your job. Your union opt out letter allows you to formally end your union membership, but it also provides legal protection for you and the union by showing that you have been offered the chance to join the union or continue your membership, but have chosen to decline.

Why do I need an opt out letter?

You can reject union membership either by opting out or never joining in the first place. Choosing whether to join or leave a union is a personal decision that you should be able to make without fear of retaliation from your union or employer. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects you from this type of conduct, so you can confidently make your own decision about union membership.

If you have decided to resign your union membership and want to stop union deductions from your paycheck, we strongly recommend that you document your decision in an opt out letter and send it to your union.

While your union may not require one, writing an opt out letter can help clarify your reasons for wanting to leave the union in the first place. It also gives you the space to make an informed decision about union membership without feeling unnecessary pressure if you decide to leave.

An opt out letter also creates a paper trail and can protect you from any future legal disputes over whether you were offered the opportunity to join the union or whether you really exercised your right to end your membership.

What should my opt out letter include?

You can find examples of opt out letters online or choose to write your own from scratch. Not every opt out letter will look the same, but each letter should include a few key pieces of information.

In addition to your name and contact information, be sure to include your employer’s name, the name of the union, and your reason for opting out. You should also clearly state that you have the right to resign from the union and it must immediately stop any automatic payroll deductions for union dues or fees.

In some cases, you may only be able to end your union membership during a designated opt out period. You can choose to mention this in your opt out letter by asking the union to respond to your request in writing with any additional action you must take in order to stop automatic dues or agency fee deductions and resign your membership in the union.

If you need help writing your letter, try our Opt Out letter tool here. To get started, select your state and fill out the form. Once you click submit, our site will generate a PDF version of your opt out letter that you can print and send to your union.

What should I expect after I send my opt out letter to the union?

Once you send your opt out letter, the union will typically respond to let you know they received it within a few weeks. In the meantime, keep an eye on your paycheck. Monitor your pay stub closely to make sure that the deductions stop. Depending on when your opt out letter is received, it could take a pay period or two for your request to be processed. If you continue to have dues deducted from your paycheck after more than two pay cycles, contact the union.

What Happens if I Opt Out of My Union?

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!


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