Buckeye Institute asks U.S. Supreme Court to review labor union case

By: - January 26, 2021 12:50 am

The U.S. Supreme Court. Photo from Supreme Court website.

An Ohio think tank is asking the Supreme Court of the United States to review a case in which it says a Marietta teacher should not be compelled to let a labor union speak for her.

While union membership is not required for unionized jobs, dues to pay for collective bargaining done in behalf of employee groups sometimes are. This is not the case for public sector unions, however, following the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision. Public employees are not required to pay any dues if they don’t join the union, but do still benefit from the collective bargaining.

The Buckeye Institute said it filed a petition Friday with the nation’s highest court on behalf of Jade Thompson, a Spanish teacher at Marietta High School. The case revolves around the concept that collective-bargaining units, in this case the Marietta Education Association, speak on behalf of all members.

“In this instance, Ohio law recognizes a labor union as representing and speaking on behalf of Ms. Thompson, despite her vehement opposition to its positions and advocacy on issues ranging from fiscal policy to school administration,” the Buckeye Institute’s president and CEO, Robert Alt, wrote in the petition to the high court.

Thompson’s case

The case began in 2018, when Thompson filed her case in the United State District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, against the association and the Marietta Board of Education.

Though she isn’t a member of the union, Thompson is against any association she has with it, as defined by Ohio law. She called the labor union’s method of taking money from public employee paychecks as dues an “unlawful scheme” done “without their affirmative consent.”

The Marietta Education Association argued that its collective bargaining law does not require Thompson to be an MEA member or to pay fees.

“She is also free to express her own views,” they told the court. “Neither her employer nor reasonable outsiders would believe that all bargaining unit workers necessarily agree with the MEA’s positions.”

Thompson’s problems with the labor union peaked in 2010, when her husband, former state representative Andy Thompson, was in the midst of his campaign. When the Ohio Education Association campaigned against Andy Thompson, the president of the Marietta Education Association emailed teachers at the high school pushing them to vote against him, according to court documents.

“Ms. Thompson’s agency fees fund the activities of the Union, the National Education Association and the Ohio Education Association,” her complaint stated.

U.S. Supreme Court precedent

Jade Thompson’s attorneys argued that First Amendment rights include “the rights not to speak and not to associate,” and therefore Ohio law’s governing labor unions violate the principles of that law.

“Just like any other organizations — a church, a charity, an activist group — a labor union has no inherent right to any individual’s money, and the government therefore may not simply deduct union fees of any kind from a public employee’s paycheck absent that employee’s affirmative consent,” Thompson’s attorneys wrote in her original complaint.

She was spurred on by the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 31, a case out of Illinois in which the court ruled that making non-members pay public union fees is a violation of the First Amendment.

The district court ruled in favor of the labor union, saying Thompson’s contention that the union speaks for her is “inaccurate,” and that the union only represents her in terms of collective bargaining “rather than purporting to espouse specific views for any individual member,” Judge Michael Watson wrote.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, and said the Supreme Court established precedent in a Minnesota case in which the U.S. Supreme Court said community college professors did not have their First Amendment rights infringed because they were not required to become members of the labor union.

The Buckeye Institute filed their petition on Jan. 22 and said the Minnesota case the appeals court said establishes precedent broadly sanctions “compelled representation of unwilling public employees…irrespective of their speech and associational interests.”

The institute argued that despite not being a member of the union, Thompson’s is still represented by it.

“The State of Ohio has imposed upon Ms. Thompson a government-appointed lobbyist who works on her behalf and in her name, as her ‘agent’ and ‘representative,’ even though she disagrees with the positions it attributes to her,” according to the petition.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.