A Wisconsin employer did not violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by ceasing to deduct union dues from employees’ paychecks for remittance to their certified union in response to Wisconsin’s enactment of a right-to-work law that curtailed dues checkoff, or communicating with employees about this action according the National Labor Relations Board ruling in Metalcraft of Mayville, Inc. (April 17, 2019).
In Metalcraft of Mayville, Inc., a Board Majority made up of Board Chairman John Ring and Board member William Emmanuel ruled found that the Wisconsin based employer Metalcraft of Mayville, Inc. (“Metalcraft”) lawfully discontinued dues checkoff following the effective date of a Wisconsin right to work law that included provisions addressing permissible dues checkoff arrangements because the employer reasonably believed that its employees’ dues-checkoff authorizations did not conform to Wisconsin’s recently enacted right-to-work law. The Board Majority also found that communications that Metalcraft sent directly to workers about its cessation of dues deductions did not violate the NLRA.
The Metalcraft of Maryville, Inc. decision arose from a complaint filed against Metalcraft, a fabricator of metal and manufacturer of lawn maintenance equipment by the union certified to represent the assemblers, maintenance employees, and welders at the Metalcraft plant located in Mayville, Wisconsin.
On March 9, 2015, the Wisconsin legislature enacted a right to work law that among other things provided that “[n]o person may require, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an individual to . . . [b]ecome or remain a member of a labor organization [or p]ay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor organization.” Wis. Stat. Sec. 111.04(3)(a). The Wisconsin law also provided that contract provisions that violated its dues checkoff prohibitions were void, Wis. Stat. Sec. 111.04(3)(b) and that any person violating Section 111.04(3)(a) would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment up to 9 months, or both. Wis. Stat. Sec. 939.51, 947.20. Additionally, the Wisconsin law prohibits dues-checkoff authorizations unless they are revocable by the employee upon 30 days’ notice. Id. Sec. 111.06(l)(i).
The Wisconsin right-to-work law first applied to the parties’ collective bargaining agreement when it renewed on June 5, 2016. See 2015 Wis. Act. 1 Sec. 13. When the law took effect, the existing collective bargaining agreement included a number of union-security and dues-checkoff provisions including a provision that required Metalcraft to deduct union dues from the employee’s “first payroll check in each month” pursuant to authorizations signed by employees before the new right to work law took effect and to remit those dues to the Union by the 15th of the month.
On June 2, 2016, the Union sent the Metalcraft a letter, acknowledging the law’s applicability to the parties’ agreement and stating the Union’s position that, “[a]s dues check-off is governed by federal law, that issue need not be addressed. Your employees have the right to opt out of the Union during the 15 day window period listed on their dues check-off authorization.” However the union apparently did not make any effort to communicate this new option to its members at the plant.
On June 3, Metalcraft notified the Union that it believed the dues check requirement and checkoff authorization form did not comply with the right-to-work law and that it would no longer enforce them after June 4. Thereafter, Metalcraft did not deduct or remit union dues in June, July, August, or September 4.
In connection with its cession to deduct union dues, Metalcraft also sent employees represented by the union various correspondence about its decision to cease deducting union dues from their pay. In a June 4 letter to employees, Metalcraft among other things, told these employees:
… [A]fter June 4, the law prohibits requiring employees to pay Union dues. To do so would be a Class A Misdemeanor or a crime under Wisconsin law. If you want to pay Union dues, it is now your decision and it’s entirely voluntary. . . . . Currently you pay $59.30 per month or $711.60 per year in Union dues. All together our employees’ payments of Union dues are about $255,000 per year. Based on the signed authorization for Union dues, we believe it is a violation of the Right-to-Work law. Therefore, effective after June 4, we will no longer deduct the $59.30 from your paycheck per month.
On June 7, Metalcraft sent union employees another letter containing several questions and answers, including the following:
Q: Look at the yearly total we pay the union, where is all that money going?
A: Much of the information about the distribution of union dues is publicly accessible. For example you can Google IAM and find answers to your questions directly from the source or other sources if you want to find out more.
Q: Why should I pay them anything after they screwed up the contract negotiations?
A: This is a personal choice that every individual has to decide on their own and how they will handle their money.
Q: Do I have to sign a new authorization card? The union has not shown me anything.
A: This is a personal choice that every individual has to decide on their own of whether they will continue to be a paying member of the union or not.
On June 24, Metalcraft sent a letter to the Union indicating that it would resume deducting and remitting dues if the Union submitted new, legally compliant checkoff authorizations signed by employees after June 5.
On June 27, Metalcraft sent employees another letter with more questions and answers, including these:
Q: Other people had told me that I should pay union dues myself with a direct deduction from my checking account. Should I do that?
A: Whether to pay union dues, and whether to give the union access to your checking account is up to each individual to decide. Such a decision is voluntary and it is your choice. The Company has been as clear as possible with the Union that we acknowledge that we have a legal obligation to collect Union dues from employees as soon as the union presents signed dues checkoff authorization forms that comply with the state law requirement that such decisions are voluntary. The Company intends to honor and follow Article 25 of the contract. The Company does not wish to break the law by collecting dues under the current authorization forms that were signed by employees prior to June 5, 2016 when they were told that such a payment was a condition of employment. The Company will not break the law. ….
Q: Do I have to pay union dues and sign a new authorization form to check-off dues to work at Metalcraft? A: No. The Law in Wisconsin changed and after June 4, 2016, the mandatory payment of union dues is illegal and you cannot be forced to pay union dues.
- The Union wants you to pay $59.30 per month. You do not have to pay union dues to work at Metalcraft; that’s $711.60 per year or .34 cents for each hour you work.
- The decision is yours and it’s purely voluntary!
- You do not have to sign a new authorization card; it is your decision and it is purely voluntary.
- By the IAM giving you a new authorization form, the union now recognizes that the old forms were signed when dues were required and mandatory. That’s changed!
On October 3, the Union gave the Respondent new “Membership Application and/or Check-Off Authorization” forms signed by employees. The first page of the new form was identical to that of the old form. However, the new forms in the record do not contain the Notice that was printed on the old forms. The Respondent promptly resumed deducting and remitting dues for employees who signed authorizations after June 4.
Based on this evidence, the Board Majority ruled that Metalcraft did not unlawfully modify the collective bargaining agreement when it stopped honoring dues-checkoff authorizations because it reasonably believed the dues-checkoff authorizations did not conform to applicable law.
The Board Majority explained that the Board ordinarily will not find a midterm contract modification if the respondent establishes that it had a sound arguable basis for its belief that the contract authorized its action. See Bath Iron Works Corp., 345 NLRB 499, 502 (2005), affd. sub nom. Bath Marine Draftsmen’s 5 156 NLRB 411 (1965), enfd. 376 F.2d 52 (2d Cir. 1967), cert. denied 389 U.S. 843 (1967). Assn. v. NLRB, 475 F.3d 14 (1st Cir. 2007). Where the dispute is solely one of contract interpretation and there is no evidence of animus, bad faith, or intent to undermine the union, the Board does not seek to determine which of two equally plausible contract interpretations is correct. Phelps Dodge Magnet Wire Corp., 346 NLRB 949, 951 (2006); NCR Corp., 271 NLRB 1212, 1213 (1984). Applying these positions to the evidence, the Board Majority took note that the Wisconsin statute expressly voided checkoff provisions inconsistent with its provisions and the collective bargaining agreement expressly provided that dues checkoff would be administered in accordance with applicable law. Accordingly, the Board Majority ruled that Metalcraft did not violate the NLRA by ceasing to withhold and transmit the dues because it had a “sound, arguable basis” for interpreting the parties’ agreement as not requiring the continuation of dues checkoff under those circumstances.
The Board Majority also ruled that Metalcraft’s communications to employees regarding its cessation to withhold dues from paychecks also were lawful and did not constitute direct dealing in violation of its duty to bargain with the Union.
An employer engages in direct dealing in violation of Section 8(a)(5) where:
- The employer communicates directly with union-represented employees,
- For the purpose of establishing or changing wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment or undercutting the union’s role in bargaining, and
- Such communication was made to the exclusion of the union.
See Southern California Gas Co., 316 NLRB 979 (1995).
While the Board Majority found the first and third elements met, it ruled that the employer was not seeking to establish or change a term or condition of employment or undercut the Union’s role in bargaining when making the communication but rather reminding employees that they now had the option not to authorize the dues checkoff. The Board Majority also concluded that since the communication related to a change in law the Board Majority construed as incorporated by reference into the collective bargaining agreement, the Board also concluded that Metalcraft had no duty to bargain with the Union over the validity of the authorizations before ceasing to honor them. Accordingly, the Board Majority concluded that Metalcraft did not unlawfully bypass the Union in communicating its decision to employees directly.
Based on these findings, the Board Majority overruled and reversed the prior Administrative Law Judge finding that the employer had illegally modified its collective bargaining agreement with the union by failing to deduct and remit dues to the Union from June to September 2016 in violation of Section 8(a)(5) and (1) of the NLRA and that the employer’s related communications to employees constituted direct dealing with employees prohibited by NLRA §§ 8(a)(5) and (1) that undermined the Union in violation of NLRA § 8(a)(1), its cessation of dues checkoff was lawful.
While the current Board Majority ruled Metalcraft’s cessation to withhold dues and direct communications with employees covered by the collective bargaining agreement in response to Wisconsin’s enactment of the right to work law restricting dues checkoffs did not violate the NLRA, employers should take note that the lone remaining democratic appointee on the Board, Board Member Lauren McFerran disagreed with the ruling of the Board Majority. In her dissenting opinion, Board Member McFerran argued among other things that the Taft-Hartley Act totally preempted the Wisconsin law’s dues checkoff provisions. She also argued that Metalcraft’s cessation to withhold dues and communications with employees directly inherently were in opposition to the union and conducted in bad faith and without adequate communication to the union. As a result, she proposed that the Board issue an order finding that Metalcraft’s cessation to withhold dues and direct communication with workers both violated the NLRA which would have compelled Metalcraft to take various corrective actions as set forth in her dissenting opinions. Employers should keep in mind that the views expressed in this dissenting opinions likely would become the majority view if and when the political make up of the Board is changed in the future by the appointment of a future board member during a Democratic Presidency. As a result, while enjoying the current more employer friendly attitude of the existing NLRB, employers dealing with collective bargaining concerns should continue to exercise care when handling these and other union-management relations matters.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of management focused labor-management relations and other employment, employee benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors; domestic and international public and private health care, education and other community service and care organizations; managed care organizations; insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; and other private and government organizations and their management leaders.
Throughout her 30 plus year career, Ms. Stamer has continuously worked with these and other management clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend hiring, performance management, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, reduction in force and other workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government, accreditation and quality organizations, regulatory and contractual audits, private litigation and other federal and state reviews, investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; prepare and present training and discipline; handle workforce and related change management associated with mergers, acquisitions, reductions in force, re-engineering, and other change management; and a host of other workforce related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcy and other crisis and change management; management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of workforce and other operations management to improve performance while managing workforce, compensation and benefits and other legal and operational liability and performance.
Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, heavily involved in health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. She regularly helps employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; HIPAA administrative simplification, meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA, HEDIS and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care; internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.
A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.
Author of leading works on a multitude of labor and employment, compensation and benefits, internal controls and compliance, and risk management matters and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
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