Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Can Unions Be Sued for Following the Law? Responding to William Baude & Eugene Volokh, The Supreme Court, 2017 Term — Comment: Compelled Subsidies and the First Amendment

Source: Aaron Tang, Fred O. Smith, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 132 no. 2, November 2018
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From the abstract:
Here is a short summary of the right-to-work movement’s legal strategy in the aftermath of its victory in Janus v. AFSCME: If you can’t kick a man when he’s down, when can you kick him? For within weeks of Janus’s pronouncement that the First Amendment forbids public sector unions to collect agency fees from objecting employees, right-to-work groups filed a flood of class action lawsuits seeking the refund of millions of dollars’ worth of fees that were paid in the years before Janus was even decided, when such fees were indisputably lawful. Commentators have observed that these retroactive refund suits threaten to bankrupt unions around the nation.

In Compelled Subsidies and the First Amendment, Professors William Baude and Eugene Volokh argue that “Janus makes it likely” that public sector unions will indeed be liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for refunds of money they collected in years before Janus was even issued. We think otherwise, and this Response explains why.

We start in Part I by presenting a vision of the world as it would exist if Baude and Volokh are right. It turns out that imposing financial liability on public sector unions for conduct that was perfectly lawful when it took place (because both state law and judicial precedent authorized the unions to collect fair-share fees) is a kind of maneuver that cannot be neatly confined to the context of union fee refunds.

In Part II, we explain why this unsavory state of affairs is hardly necessary. In fact, the law requires otherwise. In particular, we describe three legal arguments that should stop the union-refund suits from getting off the ground: careful application of the doctrine of civil retroactivity; defenses that were available against the most closely analogous tort at common law, including that unions acted in good faith reliance on existing law; and ordinary principles of class action certification.

Exaggerating the Effects of Janus: A Reply to Professors Baude and Volokh

Source: Erwin Chemerinsky, Catherine Fisk, Harvard Law Review Forum, Vol. 132, p.42, 2018, Forthcoming

From the abstract:
In Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, the Supreme Court held public employers can no longer require employees to pay fair share fees, i.e., the employees’ fair share of the costs unions incur in negotiating and administering labor contracts on the employees’ behalf. This essay responds to an article by William Baude and Eugene Volokh, who argue that unions are likely retroactively liable for the agency fees that union-represented workers previously paid. We explain that public employee unions, as private membership organizations, are not state actors liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We then show that even if unions were found to be acting under color of law for purposes of section 1983, they would be entitled to qualified immunity as a defense because negotiating for fair share fees did not violate the constitution at the time unions negotiated fair share fee agreements and received fees. At the very least, unions are entitled to the separate defense of good faith immunity available to private actors who are sued under section 1983 for conduct undertaken in good faith in collaboration with government actors. Finally, we show that unions are not liable on state law theories. Qualified immunity is a defense only to claims for damages under federal law, and good faith immunity has likewise been applied only to claims for damages. For that reason, plaintiffs in the post-Janus fee recovery litigation have alleged state law claims and styled them as equitable. Some states (e.g., California) have eliminated such liability through legislation. Even in states that have not enacted such laws, however, we show that well-settled equitable principles foreclose liability. Finally, this essay responds to Baude and Volokh’s argument that Janus endangers other mandatory fees imposed by the government, such as bar dues and public university student activity fees.

We’re Pregnant: New State Law Protections for Pregnant Employees

Source: Theresa A. Kelly and Alba V. Aviles, Employee Benefit Plan Review ,Vol. 72, No. 12, November/December 2018
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Several states across the country (including most recently Connecticut and Massachusetts) have enacted legislation that provides additional protections to pregnant employees. In these laws, pregnancy is broadly defined to include not only pregnancy, but also childbirth and related conditions (such as lactation and expressing milk for a nursing child).

Many of these laws require an employer to reasonably accommodate a pregnant employee unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would result in undue hardship—a difficult standard to meet. This article provides an overview of the recently enacted legislation in Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as similar requirements in New Jersey and New York. ….

Labor Law Illiteracy: Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis and Janus v. AFSCME

Source: Michael J. Yelnosky, Roger Williams University, Legal Studies Paper No. 184, September 4, 2018

From the abstract:
Labor law, both as an academic discipline and a subject of public consciousness, is in decline. The Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Epic Systems v. Lewis and Janus v. AFSCME reflect a notable consequence of this decline – what I am calling labor law illiteracy. The majority in Epic Systems seems to misunderstand one of the basic principles of the National Labor Relations Act, and the majority in Janus based its decision, in part, on a simplistic and one-sided view of the justifications for public sector labor law and collective bargaining.

Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Source: Suzanne Hultin, LegisBrief, Vol . 26, No. 17, May 2018

The recent wave of sexual harassment allegations against media, sports moguls, politicians and people of power over the past year has prompted many state legislatures to address how they are protecting their state’s workers. Many state legislatures are looking to go beyond federal regulations to prevent workplace sexual harassment.

The Best States to Work Index: A Guide to Labor Policy in U.S. States

Source: Oxfam America, 2018

From the press release:
The new index, which assesses labor laws and worker protections in all states in the country, puts Washington, DC at the top and Virginia at the bottom

The District of Columbia leads the way in a new ranking of state labor laws and worker protections released by Oxfam America today, while neighboring Virginia comes in last. Washington, California, and Massachusetts also ranked at the top of the first ever Best States to Work Index; Pennsylvania, Montana and Indiana rank in the middle; while Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi are also at the bottom.

The Best States to Work Index looks at 11 policy areas in three dimensions: wage policies to ensure workers earn as close to a living wage as possible; worker protections so workers can take time off for sickness or pregnancy and have legal protections against sexual harassment; and right to organize policies to protect the rights of workers to find a voice through organizing and sustaining a trade union if they desire.

Life After Janus

Source: Aaron Tang, Columbia Law Review, Forthcoming, Last revised: 18 Aug 2018

From the abstract:
The axe has finally fallen. In Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, the Supreme Court struck down the major source of financial security enjoyed by public sector unions representing nearly half of the nation’s fifteen million union members. Countless press stories, law review articles, and amicus briefs have criticized and defended this outcome. This Article has a different aim. Rather than re-litigating Janus, the question I ask is instead forward-looking: What’s next? Is there life for public sector unions after Janus? And if so, what might it look like? In engaging these questions, this Article has three goals. First, I want to push back on the narrative that public unions have no choice now but to struggle on within a national right-to-work environment. That is certainly one possibility, but pro-labor states have available a range of legislative responses that may soften Janus’s blow or even negate it altogether. One response is for pro-labor states to authorize public employers to reimburse unions for their bargaining-related costs directly. The standard objection is that direct government funding will undercut unions’ ability to advocate independently for workers. My second goal is to confront this objection head-on, with an argument that draws on an unlikely source: an analogy between public unions and public defenders. As it turns out, America’s woeful experience with indigent criminal defense teaches some powerful lessons about how not to fund entities whose entire purpose is to contest the government’s narrow self-interest. But it also suggests funding approaches that would raise no independence concerns at all. That leads to my final and most significant objective: to propose model legislation for state lawmakers to implement direct reimbursement of unions. The proposal is revenue neutral for public employers and unions, and it is revenue enhancing for workers in light of nuances in the federal income tax. Readers interested in the nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation may wish to skip the first three parts of this Article (which make the case for why reimbursement is desirable) and start at Part IV on page 43. For convenience, a model bill is included in the appendix.

Compelled Subsidies and the First Amendment

Source: William Baude, Eugene Volokh, Harvard Law Review (2018 Forthcoming), Date Written: July 29, 2018

From the abstract:
Sometimes the government compels people to pay money to organizations they oppose. A lawyer may be forced to fund a bar association, a college student to fund student group activities, a public employee forced to fund a labor union. Unsurprisingly, people may bristle at such compulsion. Nobody likes having their money taken, and knowing that it will be spent on causes one opposes seems to add insult to injury. But when is it unconstitutional? For forty years, the Court has unanimously concluded that being required to pay money to a union, or to a state bar, is a serious burden on one’s First Amendment rights. This burden, the Court has held, is generally unconstitutional when the money is used for most kinds of political advocacy. In Janus v. AFSCME, a majority of the Court went further, and held that requiring public employees to pay union agency fees is categorically unconstitutional, even when the money is used for collective bargaining. Such public-sector collective bargaining, the majority held, is itself inherently political. And the government interests in mandating such payments don’t suffice to justify such requirements. There was a strong dissent by four Justices, but as we discuss in Part I, we think the majority had the better argument on both of these two points. But we think the majority — and for that matter the dissent, and the unanimous opinions in Abood v. Bd. of Ed. and Keller v. State Bar — erred on the preliminary point. The better view, we think, is that requiring people only to pay money, whether to private organizations or to the government, is not a First Amendment problem at all. The employees in Janus were not compelled to speak, or to associate. They were compelled to pay, just as we all are compelled to pay taxes; our having to pay taxes doesn’t violate our First Amendment rights, even when the taxes are used for speech we disapprove of — likewise with having to pay agency fees. If we are right, as we argue in Part II, then the result in Janus was wrong. In Part III, we turn from evaluating the decision to anticipating its consequences. We doubt Janus will have significant effects on government speech rights (Part III.A), but it will likely bar the funding of other forms of private speech. Janus will likely extend to a prohibition on state bar dues, at least so long as the bar is seen as sufficiently removed from other government agencies (Part III.B). It might also include constraints on public university student governments’ use of student activity fees, though universities can create accounting workarounds that will practically allow such student activity funding to continue (Part III.C). Finally, and perhaps most consequentially, Janus may lead to massive liability for unions that have collected the agency fees that are now viewed as unconstitutional. (Part III.D). Though the fees were seen as valid when collected, the Supreme Court’s precedents say that constitutional reversals in civil cases are generally retroactive, so everyone in Janus’s shoes can get agency fee refunds just as Janus himself could (at least so long as the statute of limitations has not lapsed). Moreover, private organizations such as unions are generally not entitled to qualified immunity or similar defenses. While the unions do have some possible arguments to mitigate the damages or try to claim a special form of good faith, those defenses are speculative, and cannot be counted on.