Foundation attorneys argue IAM union “opt-out” requirement to escape payment for union officials’ political activities violates Supreme Court’s Janus standard
Washington, DC (May 24, 2021) – Today staff attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation filed a petition for writ of certiorari in United Airlines employee Arthur Baisley’s federal class-action civil rights case, which charges International Association of Machinists (IAM) union bosses with forcing him and his coworkers by default to pay for union political expenditures in violation of the First Amendment and the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
In particular, Baisley 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 “window period,” or else have money automatically seized from their paychecks for those purposes against their will.
Baisley’s attorneys argue the opt-out arrangement violates workers’ rights under the RLA, and the First Amendment under the standard laid out in the landmark 2018 Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision.
They contend that, under Janus and the 2012 Knox v. SEIU Supreme Court case – both of which were argued at the High Court by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys – no employee can be charged for union political or ideological expenditures without first giving their affirmative and knowing consent, because language from a 1961 case that union lawyers use to prop up “opt out” language was only dicta.
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 longstanding law, even without Right to Work protections nonmembers 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 to full dues and fees the next year or else be charged full union dues.
The lawsuit challenges this union-created policy on the grounds that it requires employees to withdraw from paying union fees that they have no legal obligation to pay and thus breaches workers’ First Amendment rights. The complaint also alleges that the IAM’s opt-out requirement violates the RLA, which governs labor in the air and rail industries and protects the right of employees to “join, organize, or assist in organizing” a union of their choice, as well as the right to abstain from all union activities.
Baisley’s lawsuit seeks to strike down the opt-out requirement not only as it is applied to him, but also for his coworkers whose rights are similarly restricted by the IAM’s opt-out policy. Union officials would then be required to get nonmember workers to give affirmative consent to paying for union boss activities beyond the bargaining-related expenses they can legally be required to subsidize under the RLA.
“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 constitutional rights,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “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 Railway Labor Act enjoy those same basic protections.”