by Scott McClallen
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation submitted a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court Monday for Rizzo-Rupon v. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The Midland-based foundation seeks to extend First Amendment protections to employees who have been unionized under the Railway Labor Act, which covers railway and airline employees.
In the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision, the court ruled that forcing public workers to financially support a union violated workers’ First Amendment rights. That decision struck down agency fees for public-sector employees nationwide, and held that a worker waives First Amendment rights when agreeing to pay union dues, but that waiver can’t be presumed.
“Rather, to be effective, the waiver must be freely given and shown by ‘clear and compelling’ evidence,” the Janus decision stated. “Unless employees clearly and affirmatively consent before any money is taken from them, this standard cannot be met.”
The Railway Labor Act (RLA) covers hundreds of thousands of private transportation employees, including three Mackinac Center clients. When this suit was filed, Lin Rizzo-Rupon, Noemio Oliveira, and Susan Marshall worked as customer service representatives for United Airlines in New Jersey, which isn’t a right-to-work (RTW) state. All three are currently forced to pay dues to a union that none of them willingly joined to keep their jobs, the brief argues.
“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree that we shouldn’t be forced to pay for speech we don’t believe in,” Rizzo-Rupon said in a statement.
The brief argues private employees in non-RTW states are subject to mandatory unionism under federal law but can’t entirely opt-out of financially supporting a union. If the court were to adopt this argument, millions of private-sector employees unionized under the National Labor Relations Act would no longer be forced to pay dues or fees to a union.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld that compelled union fees are a violation of free speech,” Patrick J. Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, said in a statement. “This case could extend First Amendment protections to hundreds of thousands of people across the country and potentially go even further.”
The case was originally filed in January 2019, but was dismissed in December. An appeal was filed on Jan. 14, 2020, and a brief was submitted to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals on April 16, 2020. The Third Circuit Court upheld the dismissal on Sept. 23, 2020.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.