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First Amendment Library:
Robert H. Chanin


A Michigan teachers union, pursuant to state law, required all employees in the bargaining unit who did not belong to the union to pay a service fee equivalent to the amount of dues paid by each union member. Some of the non-union members objected to the union's use of the service fee for purposes other than negotiating and administering the collective bargaining agreement, claiming that the non-agreement uses violated the non-members' First Amendment rights. The trial court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the union could use the service fee for (1) lobbying activities unrelated to the collective bargaining agreement, (2) the parent union's collective bargaining costs, (3) disseminating information concerning the parent union's litigation activities, (4) public relations expenditures, (5) disseminating general information about job opportunities, professional development, and award programs, (6) sending delegates to the union's national convention, and (7) preparing for a strike that would have been illegal under state law. Compulsory affiliation with, or monetary support of, a union of public employees does not, without more, violate the First Amendment rights of non-members. Public employees, however, cannot be required to contribute to the support of an ideological cause that he or she may oppose. Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education,431 U.S. 209 (1977). Non-union members can be charged with union expenses that are (1) germane to collective bargaining activity, (2) justified by the government's vital policy interest in labor peace and avoiding "free riders," and (3) not a significant burden on free speech. Ellis v. Railway Clerks, 466 U.S. 435 (1984).


Under a collective bargaining agreement between the Board of Education of Perry Township, Ind., and Perry Education Association (PEA) as the exclusive bargaining representative for the School District's teachers, PEA was granted access to the interschool mail system and teacher mailboxes in the Perry Township schools. The bargaining agreement also provided that access rights to the mail facilities were not available to any rival union, such as Perry Local Educators' Association (PLEA). PLEA and two of its members filed suit in Federal District Court against PEA and individual members of the School Board, contending that PEA's preferential access to the internal mail system violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.