The anti-union National Right to Work Foundation is urging the Federal Labor Relations Authority to instruct federal agencies to cancel all existing agreements to deduct union dues from employees’ paychecks, claiming the agreements violate the First Amendment.
The FLRA, in July, proposed changing its policy guidance, at the behest of the Office of Personnel Management, governing how union dues are deducted from federal employees’ paychecks.
Under the current system, when federal workers choose to join a union, they sign a contract agreeing to have dues taken out of their paychecks for one year. There is a 15-day window at the end of that contract, during which the employee can elect to leave the union; otherwise, it is automatically renewed for another year.
OPM, through the FLRA, argued that the 2018 Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME requires the government to change the policy to allow federal union members to cancel their union dues deduction at any time, so long as at least one year has passed since they first joined the union. The Janus decision stated that so-called “agency fees” collected by a union from non-members, common for public sector unions at the state and local level, constituted a form of compelled speech and violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.
On Aug. 13 — the deadline for submitting comments on the proposal to change how federal union dues are collected — the National Right to Work Foundation urged the FLRA to go even further by cancelling all existing agreements to deduct union dues from feds’ paychecks, arguing that Janus also applies to unions in the federal government, and that agreements to deduct dues from employees’ paychecks must include an explicit disclaimer that they are “waiving their First Amendment rights” in the process.
Robert Tobias, director of business development for the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University and former president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the National Right to Work Foundation’s legal analysis seems based in an intentionally over-narrow reading of the Janus decision, since it seems to contradict another passage of Janus that explicitly lauds the federal sector union dues collection structure.
“The Supreme Court has already referenced this approach as an approach that fits within the contours of Janus,” he said. “The Supreme Court has made clear that the current system based on the current statute is lawful, period.”