I'd like my 7.00 a week back, thanks.
March 15, 2007 8:36 AM   Subscribe

How can I get out of a union?

I recently got a second job working weekends in a grocery store pharmacy. I work 14 hours a week. That’s it. No more. No less. I was forced to join the UFCW. Union benefits kick in only if you work 25 or more hours a week but I am being charged union dues and an initiation fee. Is there any way to opt out of union membership? The take my money and give me no benefit. I mean, this is a pharmacy, not an asbestos mill. I would just write it off as silly, except that it’s costing me money.
posted by pieoverdone to Work & Money (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's been my experience that you can choose *not* to join the union, but that you'll still be charged the union dues (though possibly not the initiation fee). The reasoning, I've been told, is that you still benefit from the work they do in negotiating wage contracts and safe working conditions.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:39 AM on March 15, 2007

There are Right-to-work states where you can not be compelled to join a union. Unions may be imperfect in many cases, but is it possible that you are getting more from the union than you think--could you be earning higher wages or better benefits due to the union contract? Union contracts can also help raise compensation at competitors that are not unionized.
IANAL, but if it is union shop, they may require you to join to help pay for the benefits they garner (free rider prevention ), if you object to joining , you may pay a nonmember fee or pay only those fees that the union use to act as your agent in negotiations.

posted by Duck_Lips at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2007

Where do you live? Some states (mostly Northeast and Mid West) allow what is called Union shops - in which you have no choice. Anybody working there is in the Union.
posted by COD at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2007

There are different rules depending on if you are in an employment at will (EAW) state v. a right to work state. If you are in an EAW, then the union can take out dues, even if you do not become a full member*, but remain a financial core member. However, they can only use these dues for specific purposes and you are entitled to an accounting and reimbursment for the amounts they use for other purposes. If you are in a right to work state, then you cannot be required to join the union as either a financial core member or a full member.

*A full member participates actively in the union and is subject to discipline. These members dues can be used very broadly. Whereas, a financial core member only pays dues and does not participate in the union.
posted by miss meg at 8:55 AM on March 15, 2007

Duck Lips is right. You don't have to join the union but if it is an agency shop you still have to pay the agency fee- a portion of the dues for the services the union provides that are still benefitting you. The agency fee will be slightly less than the full union dues.
posted by cushie at 8:56 AM on March 15, 2007

That sounds to me like having to pay the guy with the squeegee for cleaning my windshield even when I don't ask him to. I do know some elementary teachers in IN who pay non-member fees, but teachers unions are some of the largest around. I'd be surprised if you couldn't at least find a sympathetic ear within your small union.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:07 AM on March 15, 2007

You might find it reassuring to find out exactly what your union claims it is doing for you. Why don't you contact either the national or your local and ask something like "as a part-time worker under the 25 hour/week minimum, what benefits am I entitled to from the union?" If the answer is actually none, then you can choose one of the options that your state affords you like not being a member or being a financial core member.

If you are receiving some benefits (especially if its in higher wages which actually cover the fees) it's worth considering staying in the union. If you benefit from a better workplace because of other people's volunteer labour, it might be worth compensating that effort. Also, even though things might never go wrong, having a resource that is devoted to you and your well-being can be invaluable if something does.
posted by carmen at 9:09 AM on March 15, 2007

Is it really costing you money in the grand scheme? Does this job pay more because it's a union contract?
posted by smackfu at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2007

Ugh. I hate UFCW. The exact same thing happened to me in high school when I was a cashier at a union shop grocery store in upstate New York. Most of my first paycheck went to UFCW for "initiation." Our wages were stagnant and low; a full dollar per hour lower, in fact, than the grocery store's non-union competitor. After all the muckraking my high school self could manage, I found the only benefit available to me was the ability to apply for a $500 college scholarship. Which was awarded to the union rep's nephew (I think... he was related to him somehow).

Anyway, my experience (IANAL) was that if your store is a union shop you're basically screwed. Maybe you can take a little comfort in the fact that you're not the only one UFCW scammed.

(Seriously, union shops should have to disclose this information to people being offered part-time employment. They're preying on the fact that most of the people working these jobs don't know they won't be receiving benefits, even if they do manage to find out what a union shop is.)

(And I wouldn't be nearly as bitter if UFCW wasn't absolutely useless at negotiating a decent wage. We made less than one percent above miniumum.)

posted by AV at 9:14 AM on March 15, 2007

Is it really costing you money in the grand scheme? Does this job pay more because it's a union contract?

posted by DU at 9:54 AM on March 15, 2007

AV's experiences are really unfortunate. You might have more luck with appeals to union ideals than with muckraking, though. Solidarity and benefits to the workers are central. If you find that you are in a position where you must remain a member and you want to speak out, try appealing to the need to build lifelong solidarity for unions by supporting part time workers, and point out that it was never the purpose of unions to place burdens on the poor and vulnerable, but to extract equity and just working conditions. Forced membership with no benefits undermines these ideals, and erodes worker solidarity and thereby erodes the unions negotiating power. Cast yourself as representing a key demographic of future full-time (potentially) union workers whose loyalty and commitment to labour is forged during these critical part-time years.

Etc. More flies with honey and whatnot.
posted by carmen at 10:06 AM on March 15, 2007

Yeah, I agree with carmen. Rather than arguing that they don't do anything for you so why pay, argue that you are paying, so they should do something for you. They probably think they already ARE doing something for you, like making the workplace safe, making the pay/hours reasonable, etc. At the very least you'll hear their side of it.
posted by DU at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2007

There are probably others in a situation similar to yours. Can you organize them and use collective bargaining -- effectively turning the union's traditional tactics around on them?

At the very least, a group of union members who were "forced" to join and who were striking against their union rather than against management would make for one hell of a news story in a man bites dog kind of way. You'd probably get plenty of news coverage and the union leaders may want to avoid the potentially negative PR.
posted by willnot at 11:37 AM on March 15, 2007

Right-To-Work States vs. Closed Shop States

If you are in one of the beige/grey states on the map, you do not have a statutory right to opt out of union membership. If you are in one of the red states, you do.

Your location info puts you in Missouri.

So my answer is: Probably Not.

I'd just like to echo what others have said. Why not try to see what sorts of benefits the union actually *can* deliver for you and everyone else who supposedly isn't entitled to benefits. Better yet, why not agitate to get those benefits?
posted by jason's_planet at 12:00 PM on March 15, 2007

Since you are *in* the union now, you can ask them this question. My experience with unions is that they will answer you honestly since it's a pretty rule-based sort of arrangement. Your place of business should have a shop steward (ask around, I think every workplace needs to have one in this sort of arrangement) who will know the relevant rules concerning where you work that are relevant to your state and your situation.
posted by jessamyn at 12:01 PM on March 15, 2007

In many areas UFCW is heading into a fight to win improved wages and benefits back for all workers, including part time.

I'd say, get involved, fight with your fellow union members to win improvements. It is easy to bash the Union, but ultimately the Union is only as good as its members are active. Sure, there may be some bureaucratic inertia in the Union, but an organized membership can overcome that too and win.
posted by krudiger at 12:19 PM on March 15, 2007

I got out of this by doing nothing. Literally.

I took a job at Harvard University, a place where all staff are required to be in the Harvard University Clerical and Technical Workers Union. During our orientation, they give you a card with two boxes. Check one to join the union, check the second to not join, but pay dues anyway.

I walked out without filling out the card. They interofficed me materials on a few occasions, but that was it. I worked there two years and never paid a cent.

It is--in my opinion--criminal to make someone pay dues to an organization they're not a member of.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:50 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is the second time in minutes I've asked for clarification on what life is like in the USA, but ... what are these "benefits" which only apply if you work 25 hours a week or more?

If you got sexually harassed or unfairly dismissed or injured due to negligence, the union wouldn't help you because you're part time?

Loved this bit:

>I mean, this is a pharmacy, not an asbestos mill.

There are no dangerous chemicals around you in a pharmacy? You need to re-stock.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:28 PM on March 15, 2007

willnot writes "Can you organize them and use collective bargaining -- effectively turning the union's traditional tactics around on them?"

Get enough people together who are pissed that the union isn't doing anything for you and you could decertify.
posted by Mitheral at 1:50 PM on March 15, 2007

[few comments removed, please do not turn this into a union debate, the question is actually pretty narrow]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:25 PM on March 15, 2007

AmbroseChapel -- in the US benefeits generally means health and/or dental insurance, paid time off/vacation/sick leave. If you have further questions about US vs. Australian job differences, feel free to email or bring it to MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn at 2:26 PM on March 15, 2007

What carmen and krudiger said.

I worked in a UPS distribution centre for a brief period at one point, loading trailers. People complained about the union, but near one of the poorest, new immigrant-heavy areas of Toronto, the union was the only reason they were making $9.50/hour instead of minimum wage or just slightly above.

Grocery stores are one of the areas where unions are still making big and important gains these days. My sister, a part-timer, has benefited tremendously from UFCW unionization at Loblaws in Canada, including a month-long retail strike that took place 5-7 years ago. That really took guts on the part of a unionized staff mostly made up of high schoolers and women in their fifties, but the positive results of it were sustained and probably pushed pay, security and benefits up not only at Loblaws, but in competing chains as well (these gains are now under threat due to the entry of Walmart into the Canadian grocery market).

However, if you can't be convinced otherwise, the best (and likely only) way to get out of the union is to get into management. It's a sure-fire and one hundred percent cure all to your union city blues.
posted by kowalski at 2:27 PM on March 15, 2007

I found this document on the benefits of unionization in the retail grocery industry via the UFCW website.

According to the document:
The union wage premium is 31 % for the retail food industry overall, and even higher for
part-timers (33 percent), non-supervisory workers (45 percent), and cashiers (52 percent).

Union members are more than twice as likely as nonunion workers to receive payment of part
or all of their health insurance premium through their job.

The average contribution to employee health insurance premiums is two-and-a-half times as large for union members than for retail food industry workers who are not
union members.
• The union wage premium for those working part-time is 33 %. Unionized part-time workers are more than twice as likely to have employment-based health insurance, and three times as likely to be in a pension plan

Most workers in retail grocery work part-time.
posted by acoutu at 3:04 PM on March 15, 2007

You could also contact the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. and find out your rights.
posted by Megafly at 3:31 PM on March 15, 2007

I work for a labor union. If you do live in Missouri, it is not a right to work state. So, you can choose to be an agency fee payer. That is pretty much your only option. You need to tell your union that, and most of the time, you might have to fill something out. You will get 20% of your dues money back. (sometimes this happens once a year)

If you do not do this, you will pay the full amount of dues regardless. Usually, this happens automatically, as a condition of employment. The comment above from the person who never paid any dues, is rare in my experience, but if a union is not enforcing the terms of the contract, then it could happen.

As a non-member, you are still entitled to all the benefits of the contract and representation (i.e. if you get disciplined or have an issue they are are still obligated to help you).

As a non-member, you can't vote on any new contracts negotiated, officers of your union, and can't attend membership meetings.
posted by hazyspring at 4:07 PM on March 15, 2007

If you're at a St. Louis Schnucks or Dierbergs, then you have to pony up to the local 655. Sorry.

If you attend a new member orientation meeting, you can get your initiation fee money back; if this job is in addition to another time commitment, then I doubt the trouble is worth it to you, but the option is there. The next one is on March 19th.
posted by neda at 7:24 PM on March 15, 2007

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