Denial of union boss request for rehearing en banc leaves in place unanimous Appeals Court panel decision in favor of Rhode Island nurse
Boston, MA (February 4, 2021) – In another victory for longtime Rhode Island nurse Jeanette Geary, the First Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a request by United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) union lawyers to rehear UNAP v. NLRB, a case in which they sought to overturn a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling in favor of Geary and her fellow nurses who objected to being forced to pay for union lobbying expenses. Geary was not a member of the UNAP union in her workplace and filed federal charges with free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys in 2009 after union officials infringed on her and other nonmember nurses’ rights under the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision.
Geary, who worked as a nurse at Kent Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island, filed unfair labor practice charges after UNAP officials failed to provide her evidence of a legally required independent audit of its breakdown of expenditures. She also challenged the union’s forcing her and other employees to pay for union lobbying activities in state legislatures.
The Foundation-won Beck decision mandates that private sector workers in states without Right to Work protections can only be forced to pay union dues for union activities “directly germane” to the union’s bargaining functions, which excludes political activity like lobbying. In another Foundation-won case, Hudson, the Court held that union officials must provide an audited financial breakdown of how forced union dues are being spent.
The NLRB ruled against Geary in a decision issued in 2012, but that decision was invalidated by the Supreme Court’s holding in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the Board lacked a valid quorum because of unconstitutional “recess appointments” then-President Obama had made. Seven years later, Geary’s case was one of the only remaining decisions invalidated by Noel Canning still pending without a decision by the NLRB.
In January 2019, Foundation staff attorneys filed a mandamus petition at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, seeking a court order that the NLRB promptly decide Geary’s case. The Appeals Court then ordered the NLRB to respond to that petition by March 4, 2019, which caused the NLRB to issue its decision on March 1, 2019, just ahead of the deadline.
The NLRB ruled 3-1 that union officials violate workers’ rights by forcing nonmembers to fund any union lobbying activities. It also ruled that union officials must provide independent verification that the union expenses they charge to nonmembers have been audited. Unwilling to stop forcing workers to fund lobbying activities, UNAP union bosses then asked the First Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn this ruling.
Oral arguments were held before the First Circuit in March 2020, with veteran Foundation staff attorney Glenn Taubman arguing for Geary. One of the judges on the First Circuit panel was retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter. In September, the First Circuit decided unanimously in favor of Geary, ruling that “we see no convincing argument that legislative lobbying is not a ‘political’ activity,” while also finding that the NLRB was correct that Supreme Court precedent dictated that nonmembers could never be required to fund union lobbying.
Rather than accept this limitation on their power to force workers to fund union activities as a condition of employment, union lawyers requested that the case be reheard by every judge on the Court of Appeals. Finally today (February 4, 2021) the First Circuit denied the union lawyers’ request for a rehearing with no judge dissenting.
The decision to deny rehearing en banc and leave in place the panel’s unanimous decision that unions violate workers’ rights when they attempt to force them to pay for any lobbying comes just three days after ersatz NLRB acting General Counsel Peter Ohr rescinded a Guidance Memo to NLRB Regional Directors seeking the enforcement of workers’ rights under the Geary/Kent Hospital precedent. Ohr was installed as Acting General Counsel following President Biden’s unprecedented and likely unlawful firing of General Counsel Peter Robb, who authored the memo on enforcing employees’ rights under Kent Hospital.
“The First Circuit’s unanimous ruling for Ms. Geary, followed by denial of rehearing, demonstrates the clarity of the Supreme Court’s standard in Beck, and shows how flagrantly UNAP officials disregarded her and her coworkers’ Beck rights well over a decade ago,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “While it is just plain wrong to force workers to shell out cash for union political expenses as a condition of keeping their jobs, federal labor law as a whole needs reform so no worker is forced to accept or pay for the ‘representation’ of union hierarchies they don’t want and never requested.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in around 250 cases nationwide per year.