Foundation-won Supreme Court Precedents: 

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:

2007 - Davenport v. Washington Education Association

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.

1977 - Abood v. Detroit Board of Education

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.)

1984 - Ellis v. Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks, et al.

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.

1985 - Pattern Makers v. National Labor Relations Board

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.

1986 - Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson

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.

1988 - Communications Workers of America v. Beck

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.

1991 - Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association

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.

1998 - Air Line Pilots Association v. Miller

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 - Marquez v. Screen Actors Guild (SAG)

The Court held that a union does not breach its duty of fair representation "merely by negotiating" a compulsory unionism provision that says that employees must be union "members in good standing" as condition of employment without expressly explaining, in the agreement, that the National Labor Relations Act does not permit unions and employers to require that employees become formal union members. However, for the first time, the Court declared that, if a union negotiates a compulsory unionism provision, it must notify workers that they may satisfy its requirement merely by paying fees to support the union's "representational activities" in collective bargaining and contract administration without actually becoming members.

Other Supreme Court Case Law:

1937 -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.

1944 -Steele v. Louisville & Nashville R.R., 323 U.S. 192

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."

1949 -Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525

The Court ruled that state Right to Work laws are constitutional.

1949 -Algoma Plywood Co. v. Wisconsin Bd., 336 U.S. 301

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.

1954 -Radio Officers' Union v. National Labor Relations Board, 347 U.S. 17

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.

1956 -Railway Employes' Department v. Hanson, 351 U.S. 225

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.

1961 -Machinists v. Street, 376 U.S. 740

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.

1963 -Railway Clerks v. Allen, 373 U.S. 113

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.

1963 -National Labor Relations Board v. General Motors, 373 U.S. 734

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:

Other Federal Case Law:

Federal Labor Law:

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.

Other Resources:


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