AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) — A nonprofit instrumental in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding union fees is urging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to adopt is recommendations concerning right to work laws and forced union membership.
In a March 16 letter addressed to Paxton, the Liberty Justice Center said the state’s right-to-work law “does not obviate the need to implement the constitutional rights of employees” the U.S. Supreme Court established in its 2018 opinion in Janus v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
In Janus, a 5-4 opinion overturned a 40-year-old legal precedent that allowed public employers to extract fees from paychecks of non-union employees and hand the money to unions, who maintained the money offset expenses incurred during collective bargaining that benefited all workers, even those who didn’t desire full union membership.
LJC represented Janus, an Illinois state employee, in that lawsuit, as did the National Right to Work Legal Foundation.
LJC's letter was part of continued correspondence originating with a request for an opinion from Paxton that came from Briscoe Cain, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Cain’s request, filed Jan. 27, asked three questions in light of Janus:
-Does the state have to inform employees of their rights against compelled speech?;
-If so, which information meets the legal threshold?; and
-How long would any waiver of those rights remain valid before an affirmative renewal?
According to LJC, the Texas Municipal Police Association has argued it is inappropriate for Paxton to issue an opinion on Cain’s questions. He also said the Texas Classroom Teachers Association and Association of Texas Professional Education oppose any policy changes under Janus because the Texas Labor Code already holds no one can be denied employment based on their union membership status.
“This is a distinction without a difference,” LJC wrote.
“It is like saying, ‘Our police department does not have a history of coercive interrogations, so we do not have to provide Miranda warnings.’ Yes, some states had more or less respect for employees’ rights prior to the Janus decision. But Janus has established a constitutional rule applicable in all states regardless of their prior history, and public employees in Texas are entitled to the same constitutional rights as employees in any other state.”
LJC further explained the “fundamental reality” of what changes when a government collects and remits union dues, noting, “Even courts that have ruled against post-Janus claims have recognized that a state-sponsored payroll deduction scheme is state action that creates legal responsibilities on the State.”
As such, LJC continued, governmental units that wish to continue dues-collection through paychecks must “obtain clear and compelling evidence of” each worker authorizing the process, adding that employers “cannot meekly and unquestioningly accept a submitted list from a self-interested party like the union.”
LJC also reinforced the importance of telling workers they don’t have to join a union, saying it is a “constitutional command” to provide information in order to make a waiver valid and noting the police and teacher unions declined to suggest “neutral language that provided employees with notice of their rights in nonpejorative language.”