Should public sector unions be curbed? Is it time to end the ability of governmental employees to form unions?
Raymond La Jeunesse, Jr., vice president and legal director of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, believes so.
La Jeunesse, who has more than 40 years experience helping employees litigate against compulsory unionism – including arguing four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, talked to a group of lawyers recently about public sector union problems.
“Just so you know where I am coming from on this,” La Jeunesse said to begin his talk. “The question is should they be curbed – and my answer is yes!”
His lecture was held Aug. 11 at the law offices of Drinker, Biddle and Reath in Philadelphia as part of a continuing legal education (CLE) series sponsored by the Federalist Society.
La Jeunesse said public sector unions are a problem because:
– They are a legal, compulsory monopoly;
– Union officials are given a disproportionate say over public policy;
– They exist at taxpayers expense through payroll deduction; and
– Union fees, in some states such as Pennsylvania, are forced where there is no right-to-work law.
La Jeunesse noted differences between the private sector model of labor unions. Among other things, private sector union negotiations are tempered by market competition moderating demands and providing employer incentives with costs. The public sector lacks such a force.
La Jeunesse observed that there is no constitutional right to collective bargaining. There is also no constitutional right to payroll deductions for union dues.
He also noted that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as labor leader George Meaney, opposed collective bargaining for public sector unions. Nonetheless, the political winds shifted and now 26 states have such laws.
La Jeunesse provided an outline of U.S. Supreme Court cases establishing precedents concerning compulsory unionism.
One case was the 1998 Marquez c. Screen Actors Guild decision in which the court held that unions must notify employees that they can satisfy union shop membership requirements by simply paying the fees for collective bargaining activities. It was unnecessary for an employee to join the union and pay full dues.
Another was the 2008 Chamber of Commerce v. Brown case in which “the Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act preempts a state statute prohibiting companies that receive state grants or program funds from using those monies to deter union organizing.”
The court reaffirmed that employees have a right not to join unions.
Public sector unions also have a tangential effect on private industry, La Jeunesse said. He mentioned the fierce opposition by government unions to privatization as one instance. Everything from sanitation workers to prison guards have been privatized and government labor unions have opposed them at every turn.
Another area is their participation in organizing drives in the private sector. Government union treasuries are available to help organize private industries like Wal-Mart. They help with publishing and distributing handouts, picketing, and filing lawsuits or complaints against nonunion companies, for example, claiming unfair labor practices.
They also contribute generously to political campaigns. Three of the top five political spenders in 2009-10 election cycles were the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employee International Union (SEIU) and the National Education Association (NEA).
La Jeunesse told of two cases in which his organization represented non-union workers. He said the SEIU violated federal law while trying to organize the non-union Cintas Corp. Union organizers of the SEIU would go into the Cintas’ employee parking lots and copy the license plate numbers of the cars, he said.
They would then use a source to trace the employee names via Department of Motor Vehicle records. About 2,000 license plate numbers of Cintas employees were involved. Union operatives also searched about 12,000 more files of other non-union employees. They were never told of the invasion of their privacy, La Jeunesse.
The purpose of collecting this information was for union organizers to visit employees at their residences, La Jeunesse said. There they would pressure the employee to join the union.
The SEIU was fined for their actions.
Another notable case involved eight public employees of the Borough of Ephrata, PA. They filed a federal lawsuit against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1600.
They maintained that the union illegally confiscated union dues payments from their paychecks in unconstitutional amounts and without following federal requirements.
The borough employees have exercised their right not to formally join a union. They are asking that the portion of their dues illegally confiscated by the union be refunded.
“IBEW union bosses are deliberately keeping rank-and-file workers in the dark to keep their forced-dues gravy train going,” Patrick Semmens, National Right to Work Foundation Legal Information Director, said about the case. “Pennsylvania should adopt a Right to Work law so independent-minded employees do not have to jump through legal hoop after legal hoop just to find out what they are being charged for.”
While there has been a pushback by public sector unions, La Jeunesse noted that they are very unpopular and their power is waning.
“They do seem to be declining in influence,” he said.
Editor’s note: LegalNewsline is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.