An Address by Reed Larson
President, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
Los Angeles, California
October 9, 1996
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’m particularly glad to be here today and to see the presence of so many thoughtful and influential citizens devoting your attention to the misuse of union dues for politics. I’ve been working at this problem for more than forty years, having decided many years ago that, unless we curtail the excessive political power of organized labor, the free enterprise system as we know it is destined for extinction in our country.
I think it would be useful in the context of our discussion today for me to recap a bit of the history of litigation against the misuse of union dues for politics.
Of course, a major milestone in these efforts was the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s victory in the Beck case itself in 1988.
Foundation attorneys represented Harry Beck for twelve long years, challenging the Communications Workers Union’s use of his compulsory dues for politics all the way to the Supreme Court.
This is one of the most important victories in a long line of Foundation-won precedents before the Supreme Court. Beck was a tough fight, and as you know, its enforcement continues to be a challenge.
Organized labor throws many obstacles in our path, obstacles which threaten the relief Beck promises to workers.
But from the perspective of our forty-year struggle for worker freedom, I can say with confidence that ultimate victory is indeed attainable.
In 1960, workers had no freedom from the forced-dues-for-politics power of union bosses. Then, in two prominent cases, both guided by attorneys who served as Board members of the National Right to Work Committee, the Supreme Court voiced disapproval of union political spending of compulsory dues. This was the Street case in 1961 and the Allen case in 1963, but the court left workers with little real relief against the abuse.
A few years later, the situation got even worse. In cases begun in the mid-60’s, supported by the National Right to Work Committee (before the National Right to Work Foundation was organized), abused workers petitioned the U.S. District Court to devise a remedy for their objections to the UAW’s use of their dues for political spending. The principal case here was the Reed case arising in Tulsa, Oklahoma in which the Court ultimately sentenced the protesting employees to reliance upon the union’s internal rebate procedure to seek refunds.
That meant the court had appointed the fox as a guardian of the chicken coop. Union officials successfully prevented any inquiry into their spending practices by setting up phony rebate procedures. A New Jersey union even declared that its rebate amount was one cent per month and required employees to file for the refund by registered mail.
At this point, in 1967, it was clear that employee rights could be adequately defended only through a broad-based litigation program. I asked my Board of Directors at the National Right to Work Committee to give me permission to organize a separate litigating organization. That was the origin of the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation which received its tax exempt ruling as a 501(c)(3) in January, 1968.
At that time, there were no "conservative" litigating organizations. We were the only right of center group to advance our views through the courts. Today, of course, these are literally dozens of litigating groups on the "conservative" side of the aisle.
As a matter of fact, the model for our Foundation was the NAACP Legal Defense Fund which, as I observed, had effectively changed national policy through the use of litigation.
That’s exactly what we decided to do with Right to Work issues. The Foundation dedicated itself to setting legal precedents that offer remedies to large numbers of employees to stop the compulsory dues for politics.
While changing public policy through litigation is a long, slow process, it is the only avenue of relief available when the legislative branch is in the hands of opponents of employee freedom — as has been the case for 40 years.
Our legal victories over the years have been impressive. I’d like to touch on just a few of the highlights.
Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, was the Right to Work Foundation’s first challenge to compulsory union dues. It reached the Supreme Court in 1977. In this case we represented more than 600 public school teachers. Our attorneys argued successfully that compulsory fees violate public employees’ First Amendment rights and that mandatory dues could only be used for collective bargaining costs. Union bosses could not use objectors’ money for political, ideological, or other expenses.
Abood represented the first recognition by the High Court that employees could not be compelled to pay for political speech they disagreed with, and a landmark victory for workers’ rights. While we established the principle of employee rights in Abood, it acquired the l986 Hudson decision to provide the practical means through which public employees could secure their political rights.
In 1984, we scored another Supreme Court victory. In the Ellis case, we won the no-forced-dues-for-politics principle for employees covered by the Railway Labor Act.
Abood was a huge breakthrough for employee rights, but unfortunately, the Supreme Court had failed to define the procedural, due process rights of employees whose rights were violated by compulsory dues.
This is the significance of our next major victory before the Supreme Court in March 1986, Annie Lee Hudson v. Chicago Teachers Union. In Hudson, we again represented a group of public school teachers. In another 9 to 0 ruling, the Court provided teachers with "due process of law" protection in the determination of the size of the fee they can be compelled to pay.
We had finally won the unqualified right of public sector workers to avoid supporting Big Labor’s politics. And now, one of our cases gave us the chance to ensure the rights of private sector workers as well.
The Foundation’s case Beck v. Communications Workers of America began in the mid-seventies, but union lawyers used every trick in the book to complicate and delay it. It took over a decade for Beck to reach the Supreme Court. The Court ruled on the case in June of 1988, and again the justices applied the remedies we had established in the public sector. The Court found that private sector unions cannot collect and use forced dues of objecting employees for anything beyond collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment.
It was a monumental victory! Beck recognized the right of all NLRA-covered workers to avoid paying for Big Labor’s political agenda. With our help, tens of thousands of Americans have asserted their Beck rights in the past eight years. However, the roadblocks erected by government administrative agencies and organized labor keep the freedom promised by the Beck decision out of the reach of most employees.
In 1991, in Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, the Foundation scored another key victory over the NEA teachers union, consolidating and refining the precedents won in Abood and Hudson.
Of course, we are before the Supreme Court regularly — and almost always victoriously — on cases whose impact is less sweeping than those I have mentioned here.
Right now we’re battling the NEA before the Supreme Court to defend our very significant Appeals Court victory over the NEA in the Bromley case. In Bromley we have at last surmounted the arbitration ruse which is widely used by the teachers union to evade the Supreme Court’s doctrine in Abood, Hudson and Lehnert.
In addition to these Supreme Court victories, we have won many cases at the Appeals Court level in which Supreme Court review was denied to our adversaries.
One of the most important of these was the Bloom case decided in 1994 by the Appeals Court. In Bloom, for the first time, we were able to get a federal court to slap down the NLRB for its policy of permitting union contract language requiring full union membership. We even forced the court to label the National Labor Relations Board as a "co-conspirator" with unions in the scheme to deprive employees of their rights.
Less than a year after Bloom, in Hohe v. Casey, we achieved another stunning victory in a case which may well serve as the precedent to break the back of union control in the public sector.
Under a settlement reached last year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees agreed to refund 8.6 million dollars to more than 57,000 Pennsylvania state employees. This is not a promise to pay, or a ballpark figure to be negotiated later, but 8.6 million real dollars removed from the coffers of union bosses. Needless to say, we plan to base future class actions on our sweeping victory in Hohe.
Earlier this year — in another demonstration of what Forbes magazine calls our "indefatigable" efforts to free teachers from union-boss coercion — we won another key judicial victory. Our attorneys successfully undercut one of the last remaining tactics union officials employ to avoid disclosing how much money they spend on politics.
I mentioned that we are currently battling the NEA in the Supreme Court over review of our Bromley victory.
In Bromley v. Michigan Education Association/NEA, a federal appeals court struck down a "arbitration" scheme designed by the NEA teachers union to conceal the amounts they pour into politics.
NEA bosses continually use their so-called "arbitrations" as star chambers, submitting only hearsay evidence and escaping the scrutiny of a court of law. In addition, favorable arbitration rulings establish no precedents which can later be used in federal court.
We routinely counsel employees not to participate in these bought-and-paid for schemes. When Professor Robert Bromley discovered how the NEA rigged arbitration decisions, we helped him challenge their kangaroo courts.
The Court of Appeals recognized how biased the NEA’s "arbitration" procedures were, noting "the case presented to the arbitrator rested primarily on hearsay," and declaring "an arbitration proceeding is no substitute for judicial trial."
In his decision, Circuit Judge David Nelson cited one of our Foundation’s favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson, "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical."
Judge Nelson went on to write, "For the government to threaten men and women with the loss of their livelihoods if they fail to remit part of their earnings to labor unions for the advancement of social and political causes they do not wish to support is not only sinful and tyrannical, it is a violation of the United States Constitution."
Bromley dealt a mortal wound to the NEA’s arbitration device, exposing it for the fraudulent scam it is. Last month, NEA lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to review Bromley. If we are again victorious, as we believe we will be, rubber-stamp NEA arbitrators will no longer be able to use this dodge to cover up their misuse of union dues.
So as you can see, with Supreme Court victories such as Abood, Hudson, and Beck, and important precedents like Bloom and Bromley, our attorneys have laid the groundwork for the ultimate destruction of Big Labor’s forced-dues privileges.
But many of our achievements never became high-profile Supreme Court decisions. They were smaller victories — a forceful letter notifying local union officials they were violating the law, a quick settlement that obtained a refund for an abused employee. To me, those efforts are an important component of the battle for worker rights.
We have fought for the rights of 30,000 employees in over 1,800 cases, and along the way received donations from more than 300,000 concerned Americans.
We have challenged Big Labor in every state in the union, scoring victory after victory against the bureaucratic monster that is the National Education Association and the half-billion dollar political machine that is the AFL-CIO.
Soon after the Foundation’s litigation program got underway, based on our charitable goal of representing the rights of individual employees, top lawyers for organized labor recognized the threat it posed to their special privileges. In 1973, attorney Joe Rauh, one time lawyer for Walter Reuther and leading light of the radical left, filed what union officials called the largest multi-union legal action in history in an all-out attempt to shut down our Foundation program. Rauh represented a coalition of twelve of the biggest labor unions plus the AFL-CIO. He sued to gain access to our donors names and addresses. They claimed that union officials needed to make what they termed "discreet inquiries" into the lives of our supporters.
During the course of that litigation, I twice had to defy a federal court order to turn our contributor list over to union officials. I fully expected — the first time, at least — to spend some time in the D.C. jail. I can tell you that it is a daunting experience to tell a federal judge, after he gives you an order, that "sorry, your Honor, I just ain’t gonna do it."
But through it all, we took the blows, and pressed ahead with our agenda for freedom.
This Labor Day, in response to John Sweeney’s "Project ’96," we launched a public information campaign called Operation Liberty Bell. We’ve taken our message to the airwaves, through radio and television appearances. We’ve spread the word through print advertising, and we’ve invited workers to access our website to learn their rights. Just the day after tomorrow, I’ll be holding a press conference at the National Press Club providing an update on Operation Liberty Bell and announcing several new lawsuits which we are filing as a result of that program.
The need for Operation Liberty Bell is underscored by recent opinion poll that showed that 78% of union members did not know of their rights promised them by the Supreme Court in the Beck and Hudson cases.
Clearly, the battle is far from over. Union bosses continue to enjoy their federally-approved power to compel millions to pay up or lose their job.
But look how far we’ve come. In 1960, workers had no right to question the use of their forced union dues. Few attorneys would represent them, and no legal precedents existed on which they could base a case.
Since 1968, our Foundation has acted as the beacon of hope and freedom to thousands of workers faced with compulsory dues, and removed huge sums of money from Big Labor’s political coffers.
Many more legal actions lie ahead of us. But as you can see, we are successfully shattering the bedrock of Big Labor’s political power — its ability to compel workers to pay union dues.
Currently the Foundation assists thousands of employees — from electricians in Massachusetts to teachers here in the Golden State — in 433 legal actions. Many more cases will be filed as a result of Operation Liberty Bell. All our legal actions are designed to effectively enforce our Supreme Court victories, and win additional precedents which make more readily available the freedoms promised to all of us in the Constitution.
To carry out our program, we have assembled a full-time staff of 10 dedicated attorneys. This select group makes up the nation’s top specialists in this field of labor and constitutional law.
In short, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has been — and continues to be — Big Labor’s worst nightmare. And we’re not going away.
Thank you for listening. I’d be happy to take any questions you might have.