Louisiana Should Reinstate Workers’ First Amendment Rights
Have you ever signed up for a free trial of a streaming service like Spotify? You enjoy three months of free music but notice a charge of $9.99 on your credit card statement for month four because you forgot to cancel your subscription. From then on, you vow to set a calendar reminder to cancel any future free trial subscription before you’re charged. Most people can absorb a $10 mistake once. But what if forgetting to unsubscribe commits you to a year–or more? That’s the situation for many Louisiana teachers, transportation workers, firefighters, and police officers who are bound by a collective bargaining agreement with a union.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Louisiana had 81,000 union members, plus 17,000 non-member workers represented by union contracts in 2021. Unions often engage in political speech by endorsing candidates or policy positions and use member contributions to do so.
In the 2018 landmark decision, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment requires an employee to provide “affirmative” consent “freely given” for payments to a union to be deducted from an employee’s check and used for political speech. The First Amendment interests at stake are too great for a union to presume that an employee is willing to waive their right to speak—or not to speak—by paying dues.
Unfortunately, collective bargaining agreements for public sector employees in Louisiana are not aligned with Janus’ decree. Opt-out windows for members who wish to end their membership are narrow, often only once a year. If you miss the opt-out window, you are obligated to pay monthly dues for the next year. Employees who wish to end their union membership provide notice to their union, not directly to their employer. Finally, these agreements deprive employees of the right (and requirement) to freely give their affirmative consent to waive their First Amendment rights.
The Louisiana legislature is considering a bill that would cure these deficiencies. The bill would require future collective bargaining agreements for public sector unions to preserve members’ First Amendment rights by allowing union members to end their membership and stop dues payments at any time; requiring an authorization informing the employee of their First Amendment right to join–or not join–a union and pay dues; allowing union members to submit their dues authorization or membership resignation directly to their employer, rather than through the union; and requiring the employer to verify the authenticity of the dues authorization or membership resignation.