State Supreme Court Orders Teacher Union Locals to Halt Dues Seizures
BOSTON, Mass. - In a major victory for Massachusetts public employees, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ordered local teacher union bosses to stop collecting forced dues until they provide independently audited disclosure of the unions' expenditures.
The key ruling, which won intense media coverage throughout the state, advances the Foundation's long-term support for Massachusetts teachers who have been battling the militant Massachusetts Teacher Association (MTA) union bosses to preserve the teachers' individual liberty.
A number of local unions had violated the U.S. Supreme Court's clear ruling in Chicago Teachers v. Hudson by refusing to provide independently audited information to non-member teachers about union expenditures, including political activities. Yet, if the teachers refused to pay for these activities, they would either be fired or suspended from their jobs pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement.
Teachers' rights trampled by union officials
"Believing they were above the law, the union lawyers arrogantly argued that the U.S. Supreme Court did not mean what it said," said Reed Larson, President of the Foundation.
The case arose in 1989 when the Bridgewater Education Association, the Wareham Education Association, and the Fairhaven Education Association refused to provide independently audited financial disclosures to non-member teachers who were forced to pay agency fees to the unions.
Arguing that the unions' refusal to provide the adequate disclosures violated their Constitutional and statutory rights, five Foundation-assisted teachers filed suit against the unions before the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission (MLRC).
Courts sock scofflaw union bosses
In its ruling, the MLRC followed the constitutional protections created in Hudson as well as the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association. These rulings stated that the union may not collect compulsory dues spent on activities unrelated to collective bargaining.
Politics, lobbying, organizing, public relations, and other non-bargaining activities are explicitly non-chargeable to employees who have exercised their right to refrain from union membership.
In their appeal of the MLRC's ruling, union officials unsuccessfully argued that the small size and limited resources of their local unions meant they were somehow not responsible to provide non-member teachers with independent audits.
Persuaded by the strength of arguments presented by Foundation and MLRC attorneys, the Supreme Judicial Court's decision dismissed the union officials' disingenuous arguments that their resources would not allow them to perform the independent audit by stating that although the law permits union officials to collect agency fees, it by no means requires them to do so.
The ruling also allows the five teachers - David Dupuis, Eleanor Dupuis, Besty Ann Wood, Charles Cipollini, and Peter Anthony - to receive full refunds of all the dues paid to the local union during the school years at issue. Foundation attorneys are now preparing a motion to extend the refund to include all dues paid to the local unions since the filing of the case more than 10 years ago.
Foundation victory sets the stage for larger issues
The case of these five teachers is a part of the larger case Belhumeur v. MTA and is a major step toward ultimate victory by Foundation attorneys in that case.
The Belhumeur case is currently on appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Court and is a direct assault on the entire process that allows the illegal seizure of forced union dues for politics. Foundation attorneys seek a ruling that wipes out forced dues altogether as "unconstitutional as applied."
"This recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court paves the way for the critical arguments Foundation attorneys will present in the Belhumeur case," said Larson.