The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2020 edition. To view other editions or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
Cases challenge requirement that workers opt out of union political spending or else pay full dues
Just “plane” wrong: United Airlines fleet service employee Arthur Baisley (left) and JetBlue Airways pilot Christian Popp (right) are fighting to end schemes that deduct union political expenses out of workers’ paychecks without their consent.
NEW ORLEANS, LA – With free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, two airline workers have filed cases challenging union boss policies that require workers to opt out in order to exercise their First Amendment right not to fund union political activities, as recognized in the Foundation-argued 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision.
The two federal class-action lawsuits were brought for United Airlines fleet service employee Arthur Baisley and JetBlue Airways pilot Christian Popp. They are currently pending in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits respectively.
Workers Challenge Compelled Political Speech
Baisley’s case against the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union has been fully briefed and is tentatively set for oral argument the week of November 30. Meanwhile, the opening brief for Popp’s case against the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) union was filed in early October.
The lawsuits contend that under Janus and the 2012 Knox v. SEIU Supreme Court cases — both argued and won by Foundation staff attorneys — no union dues or fees can be charged for union political activities without a worker’s affirmative consent.
Despite this, union officials at the IAM and ALPA enforce complicated opt-out policies that require workers to object to funding union political activities or else pay full union dues. Foundation staff attorneys argue that the Janus decision’s opt-in requirement applies to airline and railroad employees covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), taken together with longstanding precedent protecting private sector workers from being required to pay for union political and ideological activities.
Mr. Baisley and Mr. Popp both work in Right to Work states (Texas and Florida, respectively), but the RLA preempts state law. Consequently, they can be forced to pay union dues or fees or be fired. Even under the RLA, however, union bosses cannot legally force workers to pay for political activities.
Cases Could Expand Janus Protections to Private Sector
The lawsuits argue IAM and ALPA’s opt-out policies are designed to trap unwilling participants into full dues in violation of their First Amendment rights. This forces workers to subsidize union political activities against their will, including the part of full dues that union officials use to support their radical political agenda and handpicked candidates for office.
“IAM and ALPA union officials have demonstrated a blatant disregard for the rights of the very workers they claim to represent by creating complicated obstacles for independent-minded workers who want to exercise their right not to fund union ideological activities,” said National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens. “Although Janus’ biggest impact was to secure the First Amendment rights of all public employees across the nation not to be required to fund Big Labor, these cases demonstrate that Janus’ implications can also protect the rights of private sector workers.”