A Michigan-based group is suing a machinist and aerospace union on behalf of employees who say they shouldn't have to pay fees to a union they don't want to join. The case was filed in federal district court in New Jersey.
Last year, the Supreme Court decided in a landmark right-to-work case, Janus V. AFSCME, that the practice of unions forcing public-sector employees to pay union fees was unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment's protection of freedom of association. Although the Janus decision did not affect private-sector unions, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is arguing that because of the state of Michigan's involvement in the airline industry, its employees deserve the same protections.
"The Supreme Court indicated there was an open question whether there is sufficient state action involved through creation and implementation of the Railway Labor Act to trigger constitutional protections like the First Amendment," Patrick Wright, the director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, told Watchdog.org.
If the lawsuit is successful, Wright said airline workers First Amendment rights would be protected and they could not be fired from a job if they chose not to financially support a union.
"In Janus, the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that state and local governments could not impinge on free speech rights," Wright said in a news release. "This lawsuit seeks to make certain the federal government cannot either."
The Mackinac Center will be representing three plaintiffs against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The plaintiffs, Lin Rizzo-Rupon, Noemieo Oliveira and Susan Marshall, work for United Airlines as customer service representatives and are forced to pay fees to the union. Federal law permits the union to force workers to financially support it even though some workers, including the three plaintiffs, chose not to join.
The question the judge will have to answer is whether Congress enacting a provision expressly permitting "private parties to enter into union-shop arrangements was sufficient to establish governmental action," therefore warranting constitutional protections.
"It’s my money. I don’t feel that I should be required to pay someone to protect my job," Rizzo-Rupon said. "We now have laws to take care of our health and safety in the workplace. I don’t think I should be paying taxes to the government that’s protecting me and then also be paying these mandatory fees to a union for those same protections."
Neither the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers nor United Airlines responded to a request for comment.