The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday in a class action lawsuit brought against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) by Austin-based United Airlines fleet service employee Arthur Baisley.
At issue is non-IAM members being required to pay union fees despite being based in Texas, a right-to-work state.
There are 27 right-to-work states whose laws allow employees to work without being compelled to join a union. The National Right to Work Committee advocates that “every individual must have the right, but must not be compelled, to join a labor union,” meaning union membership and financial support is strictly voluntary.
While the Railway Labor Act (RLA) pre-empts state right-to-work protections, under longstanding law, even without right-to-work protections, non-union members cannot be required to fund a union’s ideological activities, including lobbying and political activities, the nonprofit National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is representing Baisley, argues.
The IAM dues practice of requiring nonmember employees to affirmatively opt-out of paying for union political expenditures violates the RLA and the First Amendment standard established in two foundation-won Supreme Court decisions, Janus v. AFSCME (2018) and Knox v. SEIU (2012), the foundation argues.
Both Janus and Knox decisions held that no union dues or fees can be charged beyond the maximum that can legally be required without a worker’s affirmative consent.
The lawsuit challenges a policy that IAM officials created for employees who choose not to fund the union’s “nonchargable” activities, which Baisley argues violates workers’ rights by forcing them to pay for union political activity without their consent.
Opting out during a brief “window period” or being required to pay for union officials’ political and ideological activities violates his First Amendment right, Baisely argues.
The complaint argues the policy “require[s] employees to opt-out of paying union fees that they have no legal obligation to pay. IAM’s “opt-out requirement” also violates the RLA, the foundation argues, 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.”
“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,” National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix said. “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.”
The class action lawsuit asks the court to strike down the op-out requirement for all employees, which would require unions to receive affirmative consent from non-union workers to pay for unions’ political or lobbying activities.
The 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,” Mix adds.
The initial 48-page complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in July.
IAM represents 600,000 active and retired members as “one of the largest and most diverse labor unions in North America,” representing employees who work at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Airlines, Harley-Davidson, among many others.
IAM is currently lobbying Congress to pass a bipartisan defense authorization bill that would fund numerous military programs built and maintained by IAM members, supporting more than 100,000 IAM aerospace defense and shipbuilding jobs.
It is also lobbying against a rule change made by the Export-Import Bank that, if implemented, IAM argues “would allow U.S. exporters to offshore more American jobs to other countries and receive Ex-Im financing to do so.”