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Goldwater Tells Federal Agency to Protect Workers’ Rights from Union Power Grab

January 25, 2023

Imagine you belong to an organization that has access to your paycheck and will not let you stop paying membership dues, unless you beg for permission during a very narrow period of time and jump through numerous other technical hoops. Sound unfair? Now imagine your employer is the one who set up this whole arrangement.

It’s not hypothetical. Today, one powerful public-sector union is trying to impose that precise predatory scheme on all federal employees through administrative regulations—rules imposed by a federal agency controlled by Biden-appointed commissioners that have the force of law. But the Goldwater Institute is fighting back to protect worker freedom.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents more than 150,000 federal employees working in dozens of government agencies, is one of many big labor unions that wants to make it difficult for people to leave and stop paying dues, even though the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws protect workers and prohibit the unions’ money grab. That’s why the Goldwater Institute submitted comment to the Federal Labor Relations Authority last week opposing the National Treasury Employees Union’s request for rules and policy changes that would allow it to prevent its members from leaving the union or stop paying union dues unless they formally opt out within a narrow, annual window of time.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its landmark Janus decision that the First Amendment protects the freedom to associate—or not to associate—for “expressive purposes.” 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.

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

Prior to Janus, the Federal Labor Relations Authority had adopted rules that unfairly restricted when and how federal employees could leave unions and stop paying union dues. In 2020, the Trump administration asked the agency to revise its rules in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. The agency updated its regulations to make it easier for federal workers to cancel their union membership and revoke their dues deduction authorizations.

Now, this federal agency is seeking to undo those changes and revert back to its prior unconstitutional practices.

We think that’s wrong, and we’re taking action to stop it. The Goldwater Institute will always defend the constitutional right of all citizens to associate—or not associate—with whatever private organizations they choose. The Federal Labor Relations Authority must likewise respect the Constitution and reject the union’s proposals.

You can read the full comment submitted to the FLRA here.

Click here to read more about Goldwater’s work to stop government entities from trapping their employees in public-sector unions. You can find out more about what Goldwater is doing to confront the administrative state here, and read about our work to protect associational rights here.

Parker Jackson is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



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