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Professor’s Claim That Public Union Violates Her Free Speech Rights Rejected by Federal Courts

This week, the Eighth Circuit Court of AppealsFN1 upheld the denial of a preliminary injunction in a case challenging the legality of public sector unions.FN2 In Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Organization, et al., a professor at a public university asked a federal court for an injunction prohibiting the Inter Faculty Organization (“IFO”) from acting as her exclusive bargaining representative. According to the plaintiff, who is not a member of the IFO and disagrees with the organization’s positions, the state law that requires public employers to deal exclusively with a union on terms and conditions of employment violates her rights to freedom of speech and association. The plaintiff relied on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, which held that state laws requiring non-union members to pay public sector union membership fees violated employees’ First Amendment rights.FN3

Both the federal district court and court of appeals rejected the plaintiff’s arguments, reasoning in part that public unions speak “for the collective, and not for individual members,” who can “speak their mind freely.” The district court further reasoned that, unlike Janus, the plaintiff was not required to pay mandatory union dues or take any specific direct action, against her will. The advocacy group behind the Uradnik case has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review.FN4 We will keep readers posted as to whether the Supreme Court decides to hear the appeal.  

Practical Takeaway

In light of the now solidly-conservative makeup of the Supreme Court, we expect to continue to see legal challenges to long-standing legal precedent and understandings. Although we do not expect the Supreme Court to invalidate the legality of public sector unions, we do expect to see ground-breaking labor and employment decisions in the coming years.

Footnotes:

FN1:    The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals hears appeals from federal courts in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

FN2:   See Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Org., Case 18-3086 (8th Cir. Dec. 3, 2018) (decision not available online), affirming Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Org., 2018 WL 4654751 (D. Minn. Sept. 27, 2018). The plaintiff in Uradnik immediately filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. See http://src.bna.com/DIk.

FN3:   See Janus v. Am. Fedn. of State, County, and Mun. Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2486 (2018) (Membership fees may not be deducted from non-members unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.); see also Rocky Mountain Employer Blog, Supreme Court Rules Against Unions In Battle Over Public Worker Fees, (June 28, 2018), http://www.rockymountainemployersblog.com/blog/2018/6/28/supreme-court-rules-against-unions-in-battle-over-public-worker-fees

FN4:   See Tyler Arnold, Potentially the biggest union-related case since Janus appealed to U.S. Supreme Court, Watchdog.org, (December 4, 2018), https://www.watchdog.org/national/potentially-the-biggest-union-related-case-since-janus-appealed-to/article_1f791b48-f7f4-11e8-a6f7-cb0321b37f7f.html