Suit: Break Up Big Labor

Massachusetts teachers challenge union monopoly power

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Four Massachusetts educators are asking the Supreme Court to overturn the union monopoly on collective bargaining, a suit that could further erode the power of government labor groups.

The teachers at the center of Branch v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board are challenging the state's policy that prevents teachers who are not union members from voting or voicing their opinions about their working conditions. The Massachusetts Supreme Court dismissed the case in April. The educators are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in. The petition came arrived soon after the first anniversary of the landmark Janus v. AFSCME ruling in which a 5-4 majority that deemed requiring workers to pay union fees to be unconstitutional.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which successfully argued the Janus case in 2018, is now representing the Massachusetts teachers. The plaintiffs argue that the Branch case is a chance to expand on the Janus ruling. The Massachusetts Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, does not recognize or give votes to teachers who do not pay union dues. The educators, three public university employees and one public school teacher, say that by exclusively listening to union negotiators, the state is denying teachers a say in work-related decisions.

"There are many valid work-related reasons to deny benefits to employees in the public workplace," the petition says. "Holding the wrong political viewpoints is not one of them."

National Right to Work president Mark Mix says the failure of the Massachusetts Supreme Court to apply the Janus ruling leaves workers with a lose-lose decision to either fund political spending they may disagree with or have no say in workplace decisions.

"The state of Massachusetts is forcing these educators to fund state legislators' union political allies if they want even the most limited participation in the government-created bargaining process that controls their conditions of employment," Mix said. "Such schemes are effectively a modern version of Tammany Hall that should be a thing of the past, and it’s time for courts to acknowledge it."

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected that line of thinking when it dismissed the suit in April. The Court pointed to longstanding precedents that affirm exclusive union membership and collective bargaining as a constitutional practice. They also noted that the MTA stopped collecting agency fees to comply with the Janus ruling.

"Janus and the other Supreme Court cases have thus not questioned the constitutionality of exclusive representation," the court stated. "The Court has, however, inextricably coupled exclusive representation with a union's duty of fair representation."

National Right to Work spokesman Patrick Semmens said that ending exclusive representation is a natural extension of the Janus ruling and will help clarify for policymakers the First Amendment rights of government employees. He said the suppression of non-union-member teachers is a strategic tactic by the Massachusetts Education Association to benefit their preferred politicians.

"Forced union dues are only part of the unconstitutional scheme inflicted on government workers, as workers are also forced to associate with union officials as a condition of working for their own government," Semmens said. "This scheme obviously benefits the politicians who are funded by teacher union bosses to push that agenda, but it is at odds with the constitutional rights of teachers as laid out in the US Supreme Court’s Janus decision."

The union did not respond to requests for comment.