Supreme Court Union Fees

Stephen Roberts, with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), holds up a sign against Mark Janus during a rally outside of the Supreme Court, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Washington.

(The Center Square) — Does an employee have a constitutional right to resign from a labor union at any time? That question could be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court if it accepts an appeal filed by Washington state-based think tank the Freedom Foundation.

The case in question, Kurk v. Los Rios Classified Employees Association, concerns the enforceability of so-called maintenance of membership requirements in union contracts, which prevent employees from leaving the union except within 30 days of the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement.

Those provisions violate the free speech rights of workers, according to the Freedom Foundation.

“The Supreme Court ruled four years ago in Janus v. AFSCME that mandatory union membership, dues and fees in the public sector are a violation of the worker’s First Amendment rights,” Freedom Foundation Chief Litigation Counsel Eric Stahlfeld said in a statement. “But the unions have largely ignored the ruling, and lower courts have let it happen. Hopefully by appealing several different Janus-related cases, the justices will recognize the need to enforce their earlier ruling.”

The Kurk case originates with the 1997 decision by plaintiff Kristine Kurk, an employee of Los Rios Community College, to sign a “dues checkoff form,” agreeing to permit payroll deduction of LRCEA dues. The form did not contain an expiration date or any statement of a maintenance of membership requirement.

In 2017, California enacted a law stipulation that public employees cannot leave their union while the union’s collective bargaining agreement with their employer is still in effect.

In 2018, the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision ruled that mandatory union membership may not be required of public employees because it violates their First Amendment rights.

Kurk attempted to withdraw from the union in September 2018, but union officials denied the request, saying she could not resign until 30 days prior to the end of the collective bargaining agreement, Jun. 30, 2020.

The Freedom Foundation sued LRCEA in 2019, asserting the union contract violates the First Amendment. Given the Janus ruling, the maintenance of membership provision is unconstitutional, the suit argued. Further, the 2017 California law could not be retroactively applied to Kurk.

The suit was summarily dismissed by Judge Kimberly Meuller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The dismissal was upheld on appeal.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court this November.

The Supreme Court receives well over 7,000 appeals each term, according to court documents, and accepts about 100 to 150 of them and hears oral arguments on about 80. Generally, it takes six weeks for the court to decide whether to accept a case.