The following links will take you to Foundation-won Supreme Court precedents, Court of Appeals precedents, other federal cases, relevant federal labor law, state Right to Work laws, and other available information resources. While this list is not exhaustive, it is an excellent resource for becoming familiar with current federal labor law as it applies to compulsory unionism.
Note: Links on this page are updated on an ongoing basis as cases are revised or as new cases or case law are established. Please check this page frequently for such updates. If you have any suggestions for additional labor-related case law or statutory law for this page, please contact us.
Foundation-won Supreme Court Precedents:
The Court unanimously ruled that, because unions have no constitutional right to collect fees from nonmembers, a state may require unions to obtain affirmative consent before spending nonmember public employees’ forced fees on political activities. The Court’s decision also reiterated that, as the Court had originally decided in 1949, Right to Work laws are constitutional.
The Court ruled that compulsory dues for politics violates the First Amendment and that it is illegal to withhold forced dues from dissenters beyond the cost of collective bargaining. In this case, which reached the Supreme Court in 1977, Right to Work Foundation attorneys represented 600 Detroit school teachers. The Court flatly rejected the argument that public and private sector employees may be treated as possessing dissimilar First Amendment rights. (Union officials later tried to side-step Abood by constructing elaborate internal rebate schemes beyond the means of most employees to pay for, and by setting rebates at only 1 to 5 cents on the dollar.)
In a 9 to 0 ruling, the Court followed Abood and held that union spending of forced dues for any purpose other than collective bargaining was illegal under the Railway Labor Act. The Court also ruled that the union "cannot be allowed to commit dissenters’ funds to improper uses–even temporarily."
This Foundation-won case signaled a closing of the Abood loophole, because a phony union "rebate" scheme is equated with an involuntary loan from an employee and is illegal.
The Supreme Court affirmed private-sector workers’ unqualified right to resign their union membership immediately. (Not argued by Foundation attorneys, but supported with a friend-of-the-court brief filed by Foundation attorneys in agreement with the prevailing position.)
This private-sector case provides a key legal precedent for the Foundation’s legal action to establish the right of employees to resign their union membership.
In another 9 to 0 decision, the Court found far-reaching rights in challenging compulsory dues withheld from teachers who refrain from union membership. The Court applied civil rights statutes and found that the teachers represented by the Foundation attorneys were denied due process of law under the First Amendment.
In setting aside the "pure rebate" concept, the Court required that employees be provided with information supporting the union’s financial breakdown of forced dues; that those figures be verified by independent audit; and that employees have an opportunity for a prompt, impartial review of the union’s forced-dues calculations.
The Court ruled that workers covered by the National Labor Relations Act can withhold forced dues from the union for everything but the documented cost of collective bargaining. The Foundation-won decision affirmed the rights of private-sector employees to exercise the same freedom from coerced support of politics enjoyed by public sector workers protected by the Abood and Hudson rulings, and railway and airline workers under the Ellis ruling.
Beck, Ellis, Abood, and Hudson, taken together, break down the artificial barriers between private-sector, government, and transportation workers to empower all employees to withhold forced union dues for all activities unrelated to collective bargaining.
This Foundation-won case involved a Michigan state college’s faculty members who were forced to pay fees to the NEA/MEA labor union.
The Court fleshed out earlier, vague language by establishing a rigorous three-part test, based on the First Amendment, to judge the chargeableness of union activities paid for by forced dues. It also clarified that non-members cannot be forced to subsidize union lobbying and public relations.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2, in an opinion authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that employees who did not agree to union arbitration procedures cannot be required to exhaust the arbitration process before challenging the amount of their fees for collective bargaining in a federal court action.
This is a complete victory in the battle against phony internal union "arbitration" schemes, long used by union chiefs to block the full impact of the Beck decision.
1998 – Virginian Railway v. System Federation No. 40, 300 U.S. 515
NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1
The Court held that compulsory collective bargaining is constitutional, but declined to address the constitutionality of exclusive representation because these cases were brought by employers, not employees forced to accept a union as their exclusive bargaining representative.
1944 –J.I. Case Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 321 U.S. 332
Order of Railroad Telegraphers v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 321 U.S. 342
The Court interpreted the National Labor Relations and Railway Labor Acts as prohibiting individual employees from negotiating their own terms and conditions of employment where an exclusive bargaining representative has been recognized. Constitutional questions were not raised.
The Court recognized that exclusive representation presents constitutional problems, but again ducks the issue by holding that exclusive representatives have a duty of representing nonmembers “fairly.”
The Court ruled that state Right to Work laws are constitutional.
The Court held that the National Labor Relations (“Wagner”) Act permitted state Right to Work laws even before Congress passed the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act amendments.
The Court ruled that compulsory unionism agreements may not be used “for any purpose other than to compel payment of union dues and fees,” that is, that employees may not be required to be formal union members and abide by internal union rules to keep their jobs.
The Court held that “union shop” agreements authorized by the Railway Labor Act are constitutional, because the only condition of employment that the Act authorizes is “financial support” of “the work of the union in the realm of collective bargaining.” The Court suggested that if compulsory dues are used “for purposes not germane to collective bargaining, a different problem would be presented” under the First Amendment.
Again ducking constitutional questions, the Court ruled that the Railway Labor Act prohibits unions from using objecting nonmembers’ compulsory dues for political purposes. The Court did not clearly define political purposes, nor did it address whether unions could lawfully use objectors’ monies for nonpolitical activities unrelated to collective bargaining. Dissenting Justice Black, predicting that the Court’s rebate remedy would be ineffective, would have held the statute unconstitutional.
The Court found that, since unions hold all pertinent facts and records, they must prove the proportions of their expenses that are lawfully chargeable to objecting nonmembers. However, the Court reaffirmed Street’s rulings that only nonmembers who notify their union that they object are entitled to relief and that the appropriate remedies are refunds and reductions in future exactions.
The Court reiterated that the “union shop” is “is whittled down to its financial core,” that is, unions may require payment of initiation fees and dues as a condition of employment, but may not require formal membership.
1963 –Retail Clerks Local 1625 v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 747, 375 U.S. 96
The Court held that state Right to Work laws may prohibit “agency shop” agreements under which employees are required to pay fees to unions to defray the costs of collective bargaining. In a second decision in the same case, the Court ruled that the state courts, not just the National Labor Relations Board, can enforce state Right to Work laws. (The National Right to Work Committee financed this case in the Supreme Court for the nonmember plaintiffs.)
1976 –City of Madison Joint School District No. 8 v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, 429 U.S. 167
The Court ruled that a state may not constitutionally require school boards to prohibit nonunion teachers from speaking against agency shop agreements at public meetings. The Foundation filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting the nonunion teachers’ free speech rights.
Circuit Court of Appeals Precedents:
- United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1036 v. NLRB, 249 F.3d 1115, 167 L.R.R.M. 2161 (9th Cir. 2001)
- Shea v. International Association of Machinists, 154 F.3d 508 (5th Cir. 1998)
- Machinists v. NLRB and Strang, 133 F.3d 1012, (1998)
- Ferriso v. NLRB, 125 F.3d 865 (D.C. Cir. 1997)
- Abrams v. Communications Workers, 59 F.3d 1373 (D.C. Cir. 1995)
- Bloom v. NLRB, 30 F.3d 1001 (8th Cir. 1994) (Summary only)
- Tierney v. City of Toledo, 824 F.2d 1497 (6th Cir. 1987), further proceedings 917 F.2d 927 (6th Cir. 1990) (Summary only)
- Russell v. National Mediation Board, 714 F.2d 1332 (5th Cir. 1983) (Summary only)
Other Federal Case Law:
Federal Labor Law:
- National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151
- Landrum-Griffin Act, 29 U.S.C. § 401 et seq.
- “Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations” § 101(a)(5), (29 U.S.C. § 411(a))
- Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151
- Government Employee Labor Law: 5 U.S.C. 7102
- Postal Employee Labor Law: 39 U.S.C. 1209
State Right to Work Laws:
NOTE: State laws are in a constant state of flux. Before relying on the text of any state Right to Work statute, you should check the most recent edition of your state laws.
- Click here for a map of Right to Work states and laws.
For an historical perspective on the evolution of compulsory unionism in labor law, read Policy Analysis: The Permissible Use of Forced Union Dues From Hanson to Beck by Charles Baird, published by the Cato Institute.
Issue Briefing: Employees in Right to Work States provides basic information regarding the rights of employees in Right to Work states.
Employees with sincerely held religious objections to joining or financially supporting a union will find An Employee’s Guide to Union Dues and Religious Do Nots, by Foundation attorney Bruce N. Cameron, both informative and useful.