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International Association of Machinists District 10 v. Allen

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

December 28, 2016



          WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge.

         Plaintiffs International Association of Machinists District 10 (“District 10”) and its Local Lodge 873 filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging a single provision of Wisconsin's “Right to Work” law, Section 9 of 2015 Wisconsin Act 1, that prohibits “dues checkoff authorizations” unless revocable upon 30 days' notice by an employee. Wis.Stat. § 111.06(1)(i). Plaintiffs maintain that this prohibition is preempted by § 302(c)(4) of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(4), which permits dues checkoff authorizations that are irrevocable for up to one year. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against Ray Allen, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (“DWD”), and James Scott, Chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

         Before the court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. All of the material facts are undisputed and the parties agree that this case turns on whether Wisconsin's restriction on dues checkoff agreements is preempted by federal law. The outcome of this case is controlled by SeaPak v. Indus., Tech. & Prof'l Emp., Div. of Nat'l Mar. Union, AFL-CIO, 300 F.Supp. 1197, 1200 (S.D. Ga. 1969), aff'd sub nom. 423 F.2d 1229 (5th Cir. 1970), aff'd sub nom. 400 U.S. 985 (1971), which held that a very similar Georgia law making checkoff authorizations revocable at will was not compatible with the LMRA's allowance for irrevocable authorizations not to exceed one year. Accordingly, the court will grant plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, enter an order declaring Wis.Stat. § 111.06(1)(i) to be unconstitutional, and permanently enjoin defendants from enforcing it absent a change in federal law.


         International Association of Machinists District 10 (“District 10”) is a labor organization located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is composed of approximately 30 “Lodges, ” including Local 873, which represents employees at the John Deere plant in Horicon, Wisconsin. In that capacity, Local 873 is party to a collective bargaining agreement with John Deere, which became effective October 1, 2015, and continues through October 1, 2022.

         Among the employees the union represented in negotiating the collective bargaining agreement is Lisa Aplin, who works as an assembler at John Deere. In November 2002, Aplin signed a “dues checkoff authorization” for the deduction of union dues from her wages, which the parties agree continued in effect under the 2015 collective bargaining agreement. In relevant part, the authorization states that it:

shall be irrevocable for one (1) year or until the termination of the collective bargaining agreement between my Employer and the Union, whichever occurs sooner. I agree that this authorization shall be automatically renewed for successive 1-year periods or until the termination of the collective bargaining agreement, whichever is the lesser, unless I revoke it by giving written notice to me Employer and Union not more than twenty (20) and not less than five (5) days prior to the expiration of the appropriate yearly period or contract term.

(Dkt. #1-8.)

         On July 31, 2015, however, Aplin sent a letter to John Deere stating that she no longer wished to pay union dues. Invoking 2015 Wisconsin Act 1, Aplin's letter explained that she was now allowed to terminate her dues checkoff authorization on 30 days' written notice, rather than having to wait until the end of the year of the authorization's life. On or about September 11, 2015, however, District 10 advised Aplin that her request would not be granted because it was not presented during the narrow, 15-day window leading up to the annual contract renewal.

         After receiving the union's letter, Aplin filed a complaint with the Labor Standards division of the DWD, alleging that “union dues were taken out after opting out of the union.” On November 12, 2015, an investigator from DWD's Labor Standards Division issued a decision finding that the dues taken from Aplin's paycheck after she submitted her withdrawal were “unauthorized and illegal.”

Under Wisconsin Statute 111.06(1)(i) such a deduction is illegal unless you have the employee's signed authorization to make the deduction and the authorization is terminable by the employee giving the employer at least 30 days' written notice of the termination. The changes to Wisconsin Statute 111.06(1)(i) required the 30 day termination notice period were enacted as of March 10, 2015 and were certainly in effect as of July 1, 2015 when the Labor Agreement between the employer and union was modified and extended.
The Complainant provided the employer with written notice that she no longer wished to pay union dues or any fees on July 31, 2015. In accordance with Wisconsin Statute 111.06(1)(i) any union dues or fees deductions taken after the 30 day notice period, August 30, 2015, are considered unauthorized and illegal deductions from wages earned. Under Wisconsin Statute 109 the wages Ms. Aplin earned are due and payable.

(Dkt. #1-12.) John Deere subsequently reimbursed Aplin for the union dues deducted from her check. District 10 and Local 873 then filed this lawsuit.

         After this suit was filed, the DWD received a second labor standards complaint from a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, stating that the member wished to revoke his dues checkoff authorization upon 30 days' notice. Like Aplin, the member had signed a checkoff authorization that continued on a year to year basis. In response to the complaint, counsel for the member's employer argued that Wis.Stat. § 111.06(1)(i) was preempted by federal law. In a written decision on July 28, 2016, the DWD stated that the issue of preemption “has not yet been litigated in Wisconsin courts, ” and that because “[t]he Department cannot determine that the law is preempted, [it] must enforce the statute in its ...

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