A Brief History of the Foundation 

The Problem

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."
-Thomas Jefferson

These words of warning, written in 1786 by the father of American liberty, have gone unheeded in today's labor scene. Federal labor laws have, since the 1930s, permitted and encouraged the growth of compulsory unionism arrangements between union officials and employers, forcing millions of employees to pay dues to unions as a condition of employment.

Workers subject to these forced unionism schemes have been denied their freedom of choice as to joining and financially supporting a labor union.The power to compel employees to financially support a labor union is still granted to union officials by federal law in 26 states. In these states that have not yet passed a Right to Work law, this power has led to abuses of workers' human rights and civil liberties.

Even in the 24 states that have such a law, enforcement is very difficult. Many employees are never told by union representatives that they cannot be required to join the union-a practice that is illegal-and most do not know that there is a law protecting their rights. In addition, many union agents take advantage of the special legal privileges and immunities they enjoy under federal law to institute the "pick-handle closed shop"-join the union or else!

The Need

Prior to 1968, victims of compulsory unionism abuses were in a lonely, exposed position if they tried to fight back. They had been unjustly treated by their unions or employers, often by both. Government agencies tended to turn their backs to the problem. And even if workers could afford them, most labor law specialists worked either for unions or for management-not for the employee.

In the words of noted labor law professor and Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox: "Individual workers who sue union officials run enormous risks, for there are many ways, legal as well as illegal, by which entrenched officials can 'take care of' recalcitrant members." The National Right to Work Committee was then active in Congress and state legislatures, pressing for elimination of compulsory unionism, but it was not structured to give legal aid to individuals.

So by 1968, the time had come for an organization that could provide free legal aid to these victimized employees. Rather than working in the legislative arena, such an organization could fight through the court system, to protect employees from violations of their rights resulting from compulsory unionism. The time had come for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

The Program

The Foundation's legal aid program is designed to fulfill two objectives: (1) to enforce employees' existing legal rights against forced unionism abuses, and, (2) to win new legal precedents expanding these rights and protections. The Foundation's caseload is growing every day with new complaints of coercion and denial of individual rights by union officials. In order to use its limited resources in the most effective and efficient way, the Foundation's legal staff evaluates every request for help in each of the following categories:

  1. The severity of the injustices suffered by the employee;
  2. The factual strength of the employee's situation as a basis for legal action;
  3. The possibility of establishing new legal precedents that would benefit other employees;
  4. The probable cost in view of the available resources of the Foundation.

Abuses arising from compulsory unionism take many forms. In order to better plan our direction and check our progress in each area of litigation, all Foundation cases are divided into one of seven categories:

  1. Misuse of forced union dues for political purposes;
  2. Union coercion violating employees' constitutional and civil rights;
  3. Injustices of compulsory union "hiring halls;"
  4. Union violations of the merit principle in public employment and academic freedom in education;
  5. Union violence against workers;
  6. Injustices of union organizing;
  7. Violations of other existing legal protections against union coercion.

In addition to litigation, Foundation attorneys and consulting academic researchers are constantly searching to develop new legal theories, economic data, and social science findings that can be used to help win cases in court.

The Result

Since 1968, the Foundation has received charitable contributions from more than 350,000 Americans dedicated to the protection of individual freedom. The Foundation's staff of expert, innovative attorneys has fought for the rights of more than 20,000 employees in more than 2,500 cases, all the way from arbitration hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court. Millions have felt the impact. Through a coordinated system of legal actions, the Foundation steadily is shaping the law to protect the basic constitutional rights of the nation's workers.

The Foundation is presently litigating on behalf of employees against a long list of unions, including the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), United Auto Workers (UAW), International Association of Machinists (IAM), and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

Among the Foundation's victories are Communications Workers v. Beck, Abrams v. Communications Workers, Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, Ellis v. BRAC, Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, and Knox v. SEIU.

The Foundation is a charitable organization and engages in no legislative activities whatsoever. Like any other charity, it works and hopes for the day when it is no longer needed. Until then, the Foundation will continue to protect the rights of all employees to live and work free of union violence, coerced support of union politics, and other abuses of compulsory unionism.

The Foundation and its supporters believe strongly that an individual's constitutional rights take precedence over the rights of any private organization. In the words of Leon Knight, a university professor and Foundation plaintiff, "The idea of the dissident person, the idea of a person who marches to a different drum, is very precious. And yet unionism is coming in and saying I must march to that drum." With the help of hundreds of thousands of concerned Americans, the Foundation is helping workers like Leon Knight march to their own drum, in pursuit of freedom and justice.

The Foundation in Brief

The Foundation is a charitable organization. It operates solely through the generous support of concerned Americans dedicated to the protection of all employees from abuses of compulsory unionism. The Foundation provides legal aid only at the request of individual employees suffering violations of their rights resulting from compulsory unionism.

The Foundation is totally independent. It accepts no contributions for the purpose of financing a case on behalf of a contributor or an employee of a contributor. The legal staff operates under guidelines set by the Board of Trustees.

All contributions to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc. are tax deductible. Individuals, corporations, companies, associations, and foundations are all eligible to support the work of the Foundation through tax-deductible gifts. The Foundation is a public foundation granted tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Foundation has background material available to substantiate the tax deductibility of your contribution.


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 National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation, Inc.
8001 Braddock Road / Springfield, Virginia 22160
(703) 321-8510 | (800) 336-3600 / (703) 321-9613 fax - general (703) 321-9319 fax - legal department