Frequently Searched

Goldwater Demands Tucson Unified School District Stop Trapping Its Employees in Unions

January 18, 2023

In violation of state law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) does not allow its employees to leave labor unions and stop paying dues to labor unions unless the union approves during a narrow window each year. That’s why the Goldwater Institute sent a letter to the district today, demanding it stop trapping its employees in public sector unions.

The district is a party to five collective bargaining agreements with four separate labor organizations: the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 449, AFL-CIO (AFSCME); the Communications Workers of America (CWA); Educational Leaders, Inc. (ELI); and the Tucson Education Association (TEA).

Although TUSD employees may freely join these unions at any time, each of the agreements restrict when workers can leave a union and, importantly, how they can stop the district from deducting union dues from their paychecks. One of the agreements only allows union members to resign between May 1 and May 15 each year, while the others impose similar strict annual windows or deadlines for membership cancellation. Worse still, for at least one of the unions, the district requires that union bosses sign off on the revocation of payroll deductions for union dues.

Restrictive dues deduction revocation windows and deadlines, of course, are designed to make it difficult for people to leave powerful labor organizations. Fortunately, the U.S. and Arizona constitutions protect workers and prohibit the school district and the unions’ money grab.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its landmark Janus decision that “[t]he right to eschew association for expressive purposes is . . . protected” by the First Amendment. The Court held that “[n]either an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” And such consent must be proven by “clear and compelling evidence,” a high legal hurdle for government employers.

Arizona’s Right to Work laws contain even broader protections. Arizona courts have said that our state constitution and related statutes forbid government entities from imposing “the requirement that any person participate in any form or design of union membership.”

In other words, under both the U.S. Constitution and Arizona law, no one can be forced to be a union member, remain a union member, or pay union dues. Period.

So, while it may be convenient for unions to trap workers on their payroll, the district cannot lawfully prevent workers who do not wish to pay union dues from cancelling their union membership or revoking their payroll deduction authorization.

Over the last several decades, private sector employees have recognized that the cost of union membership far exceeds any benefit and have left labor unions in droves. Yet, through compulsory payments, and schemes like the Tucson school district’s, government employers have kept public employees trapped at the behest of politically powerful public unions.

The Goldwater Institute will always defend the constitutional right of all citizens to associate—or not associate—with whatever private organizations they choose. The Tucson school district should do the same by revising its collective bargaining agreements and any government policy designed to prevent its employees from leaving a union or ceasing to pay union dues.

You can read our letter to Tucson Unified School District here.

Click here to read more about Goldwater’s work to hold powerful unions accountable. You can find out more about what Goldwater is doing to protect jobs, economic freedom, and our economy here, and read about our work to protect associational rights here.

Parker Jackson is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



More on this issue

Donate Now

Help all Americans live freer, happier lives. Join the Goldwater Institute as we defend and strengthen freedom in all 50 states.

Donate Now

Since 1988, the Goldwater Institute has been in the liberty business — defending and promoting freedom, and achieving more than 400 victories in all 50 states. Donate today to help support our mission.

We Protect Your Rights

Our attorneys defend individual rights and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Need Help? Submit a case.

Get Connected to Goldwater

Sign up for the latest news, event updates, and more.