Four former members of Teamsters Local 214 in Dearborn, Michigan, have filed suit against the union, alleging it has no right to charge them $150 plus expenses if they want to file a grievance with their employer. The case illustrates one of the problems for workers taking advantage of the Wolverine State’s new right to work law: Even after workers opt out of unions, the unions can still claim exclusive workplace representation rights.

The four ex-Teamsters – Fred Armstrong, Maria Santiago-Powell, Shawn Koskyn and Greg Andrews — are being represented by the free market Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. They argue that regardless of the fact that they dropped out of the union, it is still obligated to represent them without charge in grievance cases. The union counters that if they they are no-longer dues-paying members, it has the right to charge for the costs.

The crux of the matter is that Local 214′s contract gives it the exclusive right to represent workers. The only way workers can file a complaint is through the union. They cannot legally do it on their own.

On June 10, Local 216, which represents Dearborn city workers, issued a new policy that all grievances will require a minimum $150 fee plus half the cost of expenses, all payable in advance. This fee will be waived “so long as individuals have maintained their membership in good standing.” Non-members are out of luck.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation argues that by obtaining exclusive bargaining status, the union is obligated to process the ex-Teamsters’ grievances as if they were regular members.

“The price of that monopoly is that they have to represent all workers equally, even those who exercise their worker freedom rights,”  said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney for the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, in a press release.

The union obviously thinks that’s not fair. As a legal expert quoted on Mackinac’s own website noted, a judge may not view the ex-Teamsters sympathetically:

“The Center is asking the courts to interpret the state law to impose a significant burden on a private entity, which is what unions are, without getting paid for it. I think a court is going to have trouble finding that position to be reasonable. Why should some public employees get for free what others have to pay for? That’s not fair.”