The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, July/August 2021 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
IAM bosses automatically seize money for politics if workers miss tiny ‘escape window’ to opt out
IAM officials left Arthur Baisley just a small annual “escape window” to opt out of automatic dues deductions taken for union politics. Will the High Court hear his case against this scheme?
WASHINGTON, DC – Arthur Baisley, a United Airlines employee in Texas, filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case in which he is battling International Association of Machinists (IAM) union bosses. They are seizing dues for union political expenditures from him and his coworkers in violation of the First Amendment and the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
Baisley filed the cert petition this May with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation. Baisley’s lawsuit challenges a union requirement that employees who choose not to join the union must opt out of funding the union’s political and ideological activities during a brief annual “escape window,” or else have money automatically seized from their paychecks for those purposes against their will.
Worker Contends Janus Standard Should Nullify ‘Opt-Out’ Language
Baisley’s attorneys argue the “opt-out” arrangement violates workers’ rights found in the RLA, and the First Amendment under the standard laid out in the landmark 2018 Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision, won by Foundation staff attorneys. The RLA is a federal law that governs labor relations in the railway and airline industries.
In Janus, the High Court ruled that no public worker can be coerced into paying union dues or fees as a condition of getting or keeping a job. The Court also held that union dues or fees can only be deducted from a public employee’s paycheck with his or her affirmative consent and a knowing waiver of his or her constitutional right not to pay.
Baisley’s staff attorneys extend this logic and argue that, under Janus and other Supreme Court precedents, union bosses infringe on the First Amendment rights of private sector employees under the RLA by forcing them to pay for union boss political or ideological activities without their consent. The union boss “opt-out” scheme offends this principle by forcing workers to object to dues for politics within a small “escape window” and seizing those dues as a condition of employment if they don’t opt out.
IAM Officials’ Scheme Seizes Forced-Dues-for-Politics from Non-Members
Baisley is not a member of the IAM, but is still forced to pay some union fees despite being based in the Right to Work state of Texas. The RLA preempts state Right to Work protections which make union membership and all union financial support strictly voluntary. However, under long-standing law established in Foundation-supported cases, even without Right to Work protections non-members cannot, as a condition of keeping their jobs, be required to pay fees for anything beyond the union’s expenses directly related to bargaining.
Baisley’s petition details the convoluted union boss-created process that workers must navigate just to prevent money from being taken from their paychecks in violation of their First Amendment rights. In Baisley’s situation, even though he sent a letter to IAM agents in November 2018 objecting to funding all union political activities, union officials only accepted his objection for 2019, and told Baisley he had to renew his objection the next year or else be charged full union dues.
IAM Union Officials Contravened Both Janus and Long-Standing Federal Law
In addition to running afoul of the Janus First Amendment standard, Foundation staff attorneys also assert that the complicated “opt-out” scheme contravenes the RLA, which protects the right of employees under its jurisdiction to “join, organize, or assist in organizing” a union of their choice, as well as the right to abstain from all union activities.
“The sordid goal of these kinds of union ‘opt-out’ requirements is clear: trap unsuspecting workers into subsidizing union bosses’ radical political agenda without their consent and in violation of their rights,” said National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens. “The Supreme Court ruled in the Foundation-won Janus case that union officials must first seek the affirmative approval of public sector workers before charging them for union politics, and this case simply seeks to ensure that Mr. Baisley and all employees subject to the RLA enjoy those same basic protections.”