United Airlines employee challenges union dues at Supreme Court

A Texas-based United Airlines employee has asked the Supreme Court to strike down union fees taken out of his paycheck without his consent as a violation of the First Amendment, saying he refuses to pay for political activities of union bosses.

United worker Arthur Baisley said in his court petition that he’s required to pay fees to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers because the airline contracted with the union as the exclusive bargaining agent for its employees in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, a federal law that governs labor relations for trains and planes.

In order to avoid subsidizing union activity that he disagrees with, Mr. Baisley has to “opt out” of his dues payments every November via a letter.

His lawyers, who also are representing a group of United employees, noted that the high court ruled it is unconstitutional for unions to take money out of public sector employees’ paychecks without consent in the landmark case Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 in 2018.

They seek to apply part of the court’s decision in the Janus case to private sector employees like Mr. Baisley.

“This suit does not ask the Supreme Court to rule that private employees can’t be required as a condition of employment to pay any union fees at all. What it challenges is union policies that force workers to pay for union politics without their consent,” said Jacob Comello, the media coordinator for the National Right to Work, which is representing Mr. Baisley.

In 2018, Mr. Baisley sent a letter to his union in 2018 objecting to funding the union’s political activities.

But his objection was accepted only in 2019, and he was told he would have to file an objection each November.

Lower courts dismissed the case, questioning if the First Amendment applies to Mr. Baisley’s situation. Last month, he took his appeal to the high court.

“It is a foundational principle that courts ‘do not presume acquiescence in the loss of fundamental rights,’” the court filing reads. “That principle should apply to all employees subject to forced associations — no matter whether in the public or private sector.”

A representative from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Courtlyn Rose-Jones, a law professor at Ohio State University, said the case is a bit premature to bring to the Supreme Court because the justices’ landmark ruling in the Janus case three years ago was careful to “draw this line that had to do with the public sector.”

“It’s not a bad argument,” Ms. Rose-Jones said. “I just don’t believe the court wants to go to the private sector.”

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