Worker Petitions Supreme Court To Strike Down Mandatory Union Dues

Suit seeks to overturn union-withdrawal windows

Getty Images
• May 25, 2021 5:00 pm


A railway worker is petitioning the Supreme Court to stop unions from forcing members and nonmembers to fund union political lobbying against their will.

The worker asks the Court to draw on its 2018 Janus decision, which barred public sector employers from mandatory union dues on First Amendment grounds. The petition, filed Tuesday, argues the 5-4 ruling did not go far enough in cracking down on union attempts to subvert right-to-work laws through mandatory dues deductions.

"This case is an ideal vehicle to resolve the exceptionally important question whether the First Amendment or the [Railway Labor Act] protects hundreds of thousands of railway and airline employees from having to opt out of subsidizing expressive associations’ political and ideological activities," the petition states.

The petition aims to have the Court rule that "window periods," or the brief period of time when workers have to opt out of the union, are unconstitutional. If workers do not opt out during the required "window period," then dues are automatically deducted from their paychecks.

The appeal comes as the Court signals its support for the First Amendment rights of union workers. But it could come into conflict with a Biden administration that is increasingly pro-union, along with a federal labor arbiter that critics say has become politicized following Biden's unprecedented firing of GOP appointees. Biden's support for the PRO Act, which is currently languishing in the Senate after the House of Representatives passed it, puts him at odds with right-to-work laws enacted by more than half of the states in the country. The passage of the act would eliminate those laws.

The petition argues the Supreme Court should clarify the application of the rights to free speech and association within the workplace.

"The Court’s recent precedents recognize: (1) opt-out procedures violate the First Amendment; and (2) this Court never sanctioned opt-out procedures as constitutional or authorized by the [Railway Labor Act]," the petition argues. "This leaves hundreds of thousands of railroad and airline employees in the dark about what constitutional and statutory protections they have against compelled expressive associations—expressive associations they are required to associate with by federal law."

The petition is likely to find a sympathetic Court. Four of the five justices who ruled in the majority on the Janus case are still on the Court, including Chief Justice John Roberts. The addition of two more conservative-leaning justices could make for a 6-3 majority in favor of workers' speech rights.

Published under: Big Labor, Janus, Right to Work