- James Sherk, The Heritage Foundation
In 2012 and 2013, Indiana and Michigan, respectively, passed Right to Work laws covering both public and private sector employees. Wisconsin (2012) passed Act 10, which created Right to Work protections for most public employees and limited many aspects of public sector bargaining.
In response to this legislation, unions and their supporters in each of these states filed numerous state and federal lawsuits, challenging these laws on a wide variety of federal and state constitutional grounds. Some of the cases have been decided and others remain pending. The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently turned down a major challenge to Act 10, the Indiana Supreme Court recently heard oral argument on one state constitutional challenge, and the Michigan Supreme Court is slated to hear oral argument soon on a challenge brought by civil service unions. In addition, employees seeking to resign their memberships or cut off dues deductions have filed numerous actions in state courts and administrative agencies to enforce the laws in the face of union policies designed to restrict resignations and dues revocations. The current status of the three states’ laws and the many court challenges will be discussed in this Teleforum.
Is Harris v. Quinn a landmark in labor law? The case asked the Court to decide whether the First Amendment bars Illinois from compelling personal homecare providers to accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the state for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid programs.
Viewed narrowly, Harris is a challenge to the organization of home-care workers, asking the Court to clarify whether a state's interest in maintaining "labor peace" -- the justification for allowing government to burden workers' First Amendment rights by requiring them to associate with and support a labor union -- is sufficient in these circumstances.
But Harris also asked whether a state ever has an interest sufficiently compelling to require its own workers to speak to it through the intermediary of a labor union. It was only in 1977, in a case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that the Supreme Court held that "labor peace" justifies this imposition on government employees' First Amendment rights. The Harris petitioners contend that Abood was wrongly decided and that governments never have any sufficiently compelling interest to compel their workers to support a labor union. Does the majority opinion's language on Abood signal the Court is ready to reverse it when the right case presents itself?
On June 11, 2013, the Federalist Society's Executive Branch Review Project held its First Annual Executive Branch Review Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The first breakout session featured this panel discussion on labor and employment law.
Recent Developments in Labor and Employment Law
10:10 a.m. - 11:10 a.m.
National Press Club
On August 30, 2011, with the then-one Republican member dissenting, the National Labor Relations Board promulgated a rule that would require for the first time that all private employers in the country post a notice advising employees in detail of their statutory rights to unionize and engage in union activities. Employers who fail to post the notice would be guilty of a new, Board-created unfair labor practice, could lose the protection of the National Labor Relations Act’s six-month statute of limitations, and could have that failure be considered as evidence against them in cases involving other unfair labor practices. The posting requirement is not yet effective, due to litigation brought against the Board challenging its authority to promulgate this rule. In a case brought by the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and others, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the Board has the authority to require all employers to post the notice. It struck down the penalty provisions insofar as they would be blanket rules, but permitted the Board to apply them on a case-by-case basis. However, soon thereafter, in a case brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina held that the Board lacked statutory authority to promulgate the notice-posting rule. Both district court decisions have been appealed. The D.C. Circuit enjoined enforcement of the rule pending its decision, and heard argument on September 11, 2012. The Fourth Circuit heard oral argument on March 19, 2013 in the Board's appeal from the South Carolina district court’s decision. Maury Baskin of Venable LLP, who argued for the D.C. plaintiffs, and SEIU Associate General Counsel Walter Kamiat discuss the issues and give their assessment of the arguments in the two courts of appeals.