MA Supreme Court Weighs Public Sector Union Compulsory Fees

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) heard oral arguments Tuesday in the case of a college professor who has objected to having to pay compulsory union service fees.

The case involves Professor Ben Branch, who has taught at UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management for 38 years. Branch has objected to being forced to pay the union’s service fees without his consent, and is challenging the status quo in Massachusetts in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME last June.

In an amicus curiae brief filed by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute’s public interest law arm, PioneerLegal argued the First Amendment “precludes coercing non-union public employees into financially supporting speech preferred by unions.”

As the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Janus, a non-union public employee must provide consent prior to the union taking his or her money to pay union fees.

According to Pioneer Institute:

In Branch, the Supreme Judicial Court will consider the constitutionality of Massachusetts laws that allow the compulsory collection of fees from non-union public sector employees. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court has held non-consensual collection to be unconstitutional, the SJC is likely to strike down the statute.

“No rights are more essential than the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment,” said PioneerLegal Research Fellow Jim McKenna. “The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed and preserved that right in Janus, and the SJC now has the opportunity to apply that principle in Massachusetts.”

A recent policy brief published at Pioneer Institute observed only about 16 percent of dues public-sector Massachusetts teachers pay to their local union actually stays local.

“Just 16 percent of dues paid by the average member of a union affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) actually goes to their local association, while the remaining 84 percent flows to the state (MTA) and national (National Education Association) organizations,” a press release noted.

Rebekah Paxton, author of the policy brief titled “Where Do Teacher Union Dues Go?”, explained:

While collective bargaining negotiations, the primary benefit the union provides, occur at the local association level, the majority of dues are sent to the state and national unions. If only 16 percent of annual dues are retained at the local level, it appears that most dues revenue funds state and national administrative salaries and activities to increase the unions’ political influence.

In May 2018, the Center for Union Facts (CUF) also published a study that revealed labor unions sent approximately $1.3 billion in member dues to progressive groups aligned with the Democrat Party – without obtaining the approval of their members.

Data from the study showed that groups receiving union member dues included the Clinton Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Center for American Progress, Democracy Alliance, and the Democratic Governors Association.

The case is Branch v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, SJC-12603 in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.


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