An overview of the public sector labor lawsuits tracked by Ballotpedia – Ballotpedia News


To note: The next edition of Union Station will take place on January 7, 2022. Until then, happy holidays!

Overview of Federal Public Sector Labor Policy Prosecutions

Since the end of 2019, Ballotpedia has followed 160 federal prosecutions related to public sector labor policy. Today we are going to take a look at these cases. We will also highlight seven Supreme Court decisions commonly referred to in these cases.


The majority of these lawsuits ask one or more of the following questions:

  • Can public sector unions be held accountable for reimbursement of agency fees paid before the 2018 Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME;
  • Whether public sector unions can continue to collect union dues from an employee who leaves the union if there is a pre-existing agreement for the deduction of dues for a given period;
  • If exclusive bargaining representation laws violate the First Amendment rights of non-union members;
  • The question of whether compulsory bar contributions should be re-examined in light of the Janus.

The map below shows the cases we are tracking by the U.S. District Court they originated from. The three districts with the most cases are the Central District of California (16 cases), the Central District of Pennsylvania (16 cases) and the District of Oregon (13 cases).

Here is the breakdown by circuit:

And by case status (pending cases are divided by jurisdiction level, and cases that have been dismissed, settled or otherwise resolved are counted together):

Finally, this graph shows the cases we tracked by year of filing. The first case we followed up was filed in 2014.

Commonly referenced Supreme Court decisions

The following Supreme Court decisions are commonly cited in these types of cases. Here’s a quick rundown of each decision, in chronological order:

  • Lathrop vs. Donohue (1961)
    • Appeal to the Supreme Court of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
    • Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices William Brennan, Tom Clark, Potter Stewart, John Marshall Harlan II, Felix Frankfurter and Charles Evans Whittaker formed the majority. Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas dissenting.
    • Justice Brennan wrote: “We are convinced that … we have no firm basis on which to adjudicate the appellant’s constitutional claim as it rests on the assertion that his free speech rights are violated by using his money for causes he opposes. Even assuming that the opponent admits all the factual allegations of the complaint, even if these allegations are interpreted in the broadest way, and even if, like the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, we take note of the political activities of the state bar, we believe that the question of the infringement of the rights of freedom of expression by the use of the required rights is not more concretely presented for arbitration than it was in [Railway Employees’ Dept. v. Hanson (1956)]. “
  • Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977)
    • Appeal to the Supreme Court of the Michigan Court of Appeals.
    • Unanimous decision.
    • Justice Potter Stewart wrote: “There can be no dispute with the truism that because public servants’ unions try to influence the development of government policies, their activities – and the views of members who do not. disagree with them – can rightly be called political. But this characterization does not elevate the ideas and beliefs of public employees to a higher level than the idea and beliefs of private employees. … The differences between public and private sector collective bargaining simply do not translate into differences in First Amendment rights.
    • Overturned in Janus v. AFSCME (2018).
  • Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson (1986)
    • Appeal to the Supreme Court of the Seventh Circuit.
    • Unanimous decision.
    • Judge John Paul Stevens wrote: “We consider today that the constitutional requirements for the collection of agency fees by the Union include an adequate explanation of the basis of the fees, a reasonably expeditious opportunity to challenge the amount of the fees. before an impartial decision-maker, and a receiver of amounts reasonably disputed while such disputes are pending.
  • Keller v. California State Bar (1990)
    • Appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States from the Supreme Court of California.
    • Unanimous decision.
    • Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote: “Here the compulsory association and the integrated bar are justified by the state’s interest in regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services. The state bar can therefore, constitutionally, finance activities related to these objectives from the compulsory contributions of all members. It cannot, however, finance activities of an ideological nature which fall outside these fields of activity in this way. The difficult question, of course, is to define this latter category of activities.
  • Knox v. Serv. Emps. Local international union 1000 (2012)
    • Appeal to the Supreme Court of the Ninth Circuit.
    • Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas formed the majority. Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan were dissenting.
    • Judge Alito wrote: “In this case, we are deciding whether the First Amendment allows a public sector union to demand from opposing non-members the payment of a special membership fee in order to finance the political and ideological activities of the government. union. […] Public sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social matters without government interference. … But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights. … Therefore, when a public sector union imposes a special assessment or an increase in dues, the union must provide a new Hudson notice and may not demand funds from non-members without their affirmative consent.
  • Harris vs. Quinn (2014)
    • Appeal to the Supreme Court of the Seventh Circuit.
    • Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas formed the majority. Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
    • Judge Alito wrote: “This case raises the question of whether the First Amendment allows a state to compel personal care providers to subsidize speech on matters of public interest to a union they do not want to. join or support. […] [W]e refuses to extend Abood the way Illinois is looking. If we accepted Illinois’ argument, we would endorse an unprecedented violation of the fundamental principle that, except perhaps in very rare circumstances, no one in this country can be forced to subsidize third party speech that ‘he does not want Support. The First Amendment prohibits the collection of agency fees from personal assistants in the rehabilitation program who do not wish to join or support the union.
  • Janus v. AFSCME (2018)
    • Appeal to the Supreme Court of the Seventh Circuit.
    • Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch formed the majority. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
    • Judge Alito wrote: “Under Illinois law, public employees are obligated to subsidize a union even if they choose not to join and strongly oppose positions taken by the union in the bargaining process. collective and related activities. We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of non-members by forcing them to subsidize private speech on matters of important public interest. We have maintained a similar law in Abood v. Detroit Bd. Of Ed. … and we recognize the importance of following precedents unless there are good reasons not to. But there are very strong reasons for this. Fundamental rights to freedom of expression are at stake. Abood was ill-reasoned. This has led to practical problems and abuse. It is inconsistent with other First Amendment cases and has been undermined by more recent rulings. Developments since Abood’s handover have shed new light on the issue of agency fees, and no trusting interest on the part of public sector unions is sufficient to justify perpetuating violations of freedom of association. expression that Abood has supported for the past 41 years. Abood is therefore canceled.

To view a spreadsheet with information on all of the lawsuits we track, click here.

What we read

  • Institute for Economic Policy, “Unions are not only good for workers, they are good for communities and for democracy”, December 15, 2021
  • CPR News, “Thousands of Local Government Employees Could Get Union Rights in Colorado”, December 14, 2021
  • Prince William time, “Prince William Supervisors Take Important Step Towards Collective Bargaining Rights For County Employees”, December 14, 2021
  • Michigan Capitol Confidential, “Decline of the Great United States Teachers Union Since Supreme Court Ended Mandates of Government Employee Unions,” December 13, 2021

The big picture

Number of relevant invoices per state

We are currently following 110 pieces of legislation dealing with trade union policy for public sector employees. In the map below, a darker shade of green indicates more relevant invoices. Click here for a full list of all the invoices we track.

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of the sponsor (s)

Recent legislative actions

Below is a full list of relevant legislative measures taken since our last issue.

  • New Jersey A5862: This bill would expand negotiable terms and conditions between government employers and public sector unions to include those that “intimately and directly affect the work and well-being of employees”, with few exceptions. It would also allow a public sector union to charge a non-contributory employee for entertainment costs in arbitration proceedings and refuse to represent a non-contributory employee who does not agree to pay the entertainment costs. .
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Hearing of the Labor Committee of the Assembly held on December 13.


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