Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Putting My Money Where Your Mouth Is-An Analysis of a Public Teacher's Right to Object to a Union's Use of His or Her Dues for Political Purposes in an Open Shop State

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Putting My Money Where Your Mouth Is-An Analysis of a Public Teacher's Right to Object to a Union's Use of His or Her Dues for Political Purposes in an Open Shop State

Article excerpt

Imagine a city that guarantees its citizens me right to join or refrain from joining and supporting the local church. At the same time, the city decrees that all political debate and all voting must take place within the local church. The church then adopts a membership rule that only those who are tithe-paying members may enter church premises-and thus be allowed to debate and vote on political issues.1

The above-described scenario seems farfetched in American society. With the First Amendment as a shield, one would think Americans need not fear the possibility of choosing between supporting a church with philosophies to which they do not subscribe or forfeiting the right to engage in political debate. A Tennessee public school teacher ideologically opposed to the philosophy of the Tennessee Education Association or the National Education Association may, however, face an eerily similar choice.

Since the passage of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), both the United States Supreme Court and Congress have had difficulty balancing the rights of a majority of employees to organize with the rights of the minority to object to the organization.2 Determining if employees have a constitutional right to object to union dues being used for political purposes, and protecting that right, has troubled courts for more than a quarter-century.3 This Note seeks to answer a very narrow question within this arena: whether a voluntary member of a public teacher's union, created purely by statutory authority, may object to his or her dues being used for political purposes with which he or she disagrees?

To determine if a voluntary member of a union in an open shop state may object to his or her dues being used for political purposes, a variety of competing concerns must be considered. First, Part I explains the facts in a recent Tennessee case, which raises the exact issue discussed in this Note. Second, Part H discusses the Supreme Court's jurisprudence regarding the right to object to a union's use of dues in agency and union shop states. Part HI then examines whether a voluntary union member maintains the same right to object to a union's use of dues as a nonmember or involuntary member. Next, Part IV analyzes whether a union may be a state actor in an open shop state and whether a union's right to freedom of association is violated by allowing an employee to join a union and then object to the use of his or her dues for political purposes in an open shop state. Part IV recognizes when a court may interfere with the internal processes of a union. Finally, Part V concludes that a voluntary member of a local chapter of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) may object to his or her dues being used for political purposes in an open shop state and explains why public policy supports this decision.4

I. THE ESQUINANCE LITIGATION

The question of whether a voluntary member of a government employees' union in a right to work state may object to the use of his or her dues for political purposes arose in Esquinance v. Polk County Educational Ass'n.5 Dewey Esquinance (Esquinance), a teacher in the Polk County Education System, filed a complaint against the Polk County Education Association (PCEA), Tennessee Education Association, and its national parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA), on April 24, 2003.6 Esquinance alleged that the defendants violated various portions of the Tennessee Constitution, including "rights to free speech, free assembly and petition, . . . freedom of religion . . . and . . . due process rights."7 Esquinance claimed that he faced a choice between joining the union, which required the use of his money for political purposes he detested, such as the promotion of abortion and homosexual rights, or refraining from joining the union and losing the ability to have any input into his working conditions because only union members possess certain rights, such as voting to ratify the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the Polk County School Board. …

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