Another Victory for Worker Freedom

Last week, the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that private sector unions can’t force workers to pay for union lobbying activities. Jeanette Geary, a Rhode Island nurse who is not a union member, waged a decade-long battle against the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP), which collected funds for lobbying as a condition of employment.  Rhode Island is not a right-to-work state.

In March 2019, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in a 3-1 decision that union officials violated Geary’s and other non-members’ rights.  The UNAP appealed to the First Circuit to overturn the ruling, but ultimately lost.  Obama appointee Judge William Kayatta in the opinion wrote that “we see no convincing argument that legislative lobbying is not a ‘political’ activity.” The other two judges in the unanimous panel included Judge Bruce Selya, a Reagan appointee and retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

In a similar case, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 ruled that public sector unions can’t require dissenting employees to pay for lobbying activities because it violated workers’ First Amendment rights.  In California, the Janus ruling has resulted in a modest decline in public sector union membership after the first year.  A study by the Freedom Foundation found that there are now 125,000 fewer government union dues-paying members in the state, an 11 percent drop that cost unions an estimated $100 million in lost revenue. More specifically:

  • SEIU & AFSCME (county and municipal employees) lost 42,200 members;
  • SEIU Local 1000 (California state employees) lost 35,700;
  • the California School Employees Association (CSEA) lost 31,000; and,
  • the California Teachers Association (CTA) lost 16,300 after already losing 19,000 members when the California Faculty Association dissociated from the CTA.

California has more than 2.5 million union members, about evenly split between the public and private sectors.  While the First Circuit’s decision doesn’t directly affect California private sector union members, Glenn Taubman, attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation and who represented Geary, believes that the court’s reasoning could apply to every private-sector union in the country. “Virtually every private-sector union has at least one dissenting member,” said Taubman.

Currently, 27 states have right- to-work laws that allow residents to work without being forced to join a union or pay union dues.  California isn’t one of them.

A Biden presidency, however, could turn the entire country into a forced-union state.  Biden’s website says that, if president, he “will repeal the Taft-Hartley provisions that allow states to impose ‘right to work’ laws.”  He will also, “Create a cabinet-level working group that will solely focus on promoting union organizing and collective bargaining in the public and private sectors.” The result would be that millions of workers will be forced to pay union dues or face being fired, canceling the hard-won freedoms of Janus and Geary.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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