Foundation Attorneys Target Union Boss Red Tape
Justice Hugo Black's defense of freedom lives again

March/April 2000 Issue

Leominster, Mass. - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was right.

Almost 40 years ago, writing his prescient dissent in Machinists v. Street, the late Justice Black saw the danger in any form of compelled "agency shop," and he scorned the burdensome procedure that permits workers only a partial refund of compulsory union dues.

"It may be," he wrote, "that courts and lawyers with sufficient skill in accounting, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus will be able to extract the proper microscopic answer from the voluminous and complex accounting records of the local, national, and international unions involved. It seems to me, however, that...this formula, with its attendant trial burdens, promises little hope for financial recompense to the individual workers whose First Amendment freedoms have been flagrantly violated."

The case of Belhumeur v. Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) is exactly the sort of nightmare for workers that Black warned against.

Union harassment is standard practice

And that's why Foundation attorneys are resurrecting Justice Black's warning and arguing in court that when union bosses gang up with government bureaucrats to subject workers to unconscionable delays and red tape, the forced-unionism law is "unconstitutional as applied."

If we prevail, we could ban compulsory dues altogether.

Of course, the prevaricating MTA union bosses claim they only use compulsory dues for "legitimate" collective bargaining expenses. But Foundation attorneys in Belhumeur painstakingly sifted through mounds of evidence and proved that the teacher union bosses really use forced-dues money for political action.

The union bosses' goal is very simple: Jack up everyone's taxes and squander ever-larger sums of money on the failed educational policies and bureaucracies demanded by the union bosses. (See the previous article for a report on the disastrous consequences for America's educational system that have flowed from 40 years of increasing union boss power.)

Union boss arrogance gives Foundation ammunition

Proving the real agenda of teacher union bosses has advanced the battle for individual liberty and academic freedom. But the cost has been high as James Belhumeur and 118 other courageous and principled teachers have waged a decade-long fight before the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission -- the state agency that has a duty to protect workers.

This led to a 53-day trial that gave mere lip service to the teachers' constitutional rights as defined by Foundation-won Supreme Court rulings such as Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association.

These precedents require union officials to provide independently audited information to non-member teachers about union expenditures, including political activities. They also give teachers the right to cut off the use of their forced dues for politics and other radical union activities.

Union bosses have learned from long experience that if they attack workers' Foundation-won rights head on, they will lose. So instead they are now attempting a different strategy: long drawn-out procedures and endless delays. If left unchallenged, the result would be the same: effective denial of workers' constitutional rights.

Is Big Labor overplaying its hand?

In the Belhumeur case, however, union bosses may have overplayed their hand. The delays have been so excessive, the denial of constitutional rights so obvious, that Foundation attorneys now have an opening to attack the seizure of any forced dues under current procedures as unconstitutional.

That is the argument that Foundation attorneys are currently making before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. But whatever the outcome there, this case is almost certain to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Foundation attorneys have already scored one success at the High Court in a case that grew out of the Belhumeur litigation. In the case of Wareham Educational Association v. Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, union bosses appealed a key Foundation victory in Massachusetts -- and lost. The U.S. Supreme Court let stand the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts that even small locall unions may not avoid the requirement to provide independently audited financial information to teachers before forcing them to pay one thin dime to the union.

The local union bosses had whined that some unions were too small to have to go through the "trouble" and expense of complying with all the requirements of the Constitution. But the Massachusetts court correctly noted that the unions could avoid the "trouble" by forgoing the collection of forced fees from teachers.


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