Foundation attorneys argue IAM union opt-out requirement to escape payment for union officials’ political activities violates Supreme Court’s Janus precedent
New Orleans, LA (December 9, 2020) – Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments in United Airlines fleet service employee Arthur Baisley’s class action lawsuit against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union. The case, which Baisley filed with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, challenges the requirement that employees opt out during a brief “window period” in many instances or else be required to pay for union officials’ political and ideological activities.
Baisley’s attorneys will argue the opt-out scheme violates workers’ rights under the Railway Labor Act (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 union dues or fees can be charged beyond the maximum that can legally be required without a worker’s affirmative consent.
The employee, Arthur Baisley, is not a member of the IAM but is still forced to pay union fees despite being based in the Right to Work state of Texas. The Railway Labor Act pre-empts state Right to Work protections which make union membership and financial support strictly voluntary. However, under longstanding law, even without Right to Work protections nonmembers cannot be required to fund a union’s ideological activities such as lobbying and politics.
The lawsuit challenges the burdensome procedure IAM union officials created for workers seeking to exercise their right not to fund the “nonchargable” activities. The complaint lays out the convoluted union boss-created process that workers must jump through just to prevent dues from being taken in violation of their First Amendment rights.
Baisley’s experience with these requirements demonstrates how the opt-out procedure is used to violate workers’ rights by forcing them to pay for union politics without their consent. 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 for full union dues.
The complaint challenges this union-created policy on the grounds that it “require[s] employees to opt-out of 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 refrain from any of those activities.”
The class action lawsuit asks the court to strike down the op-out requirement not only as it is applied to Baisley, but also for his coworkers whose rights are similarly restricted by the IAM’s illegal policy. Union officials would then be required to get nonmember workers to give affirmative consent to paying for union boss activities beyond what nonmember workers can legally be required to subsidize under the RLA.
“For too long union bosses have enforced deliberately complicated opt-out requirements with the aim of trapping workers into paying for union boss politics despite the fact that, as nonmembers, they have already chosen not to affiliate with the union,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Supreme Court ruled in the Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME case that government unions must get consent before forcing public sector employees to fund a union because all speech directed at the government is inherently political.”
“This case seeks to apply the same legal standard to workers like Mr. Baisley who are subjected to mandatory union payments under the Railway Labor Act by requiring union officials to get workers to opt in to the portion of dues that the union already admits it spends on ideological and political activities,” added Mix.