National Right to Work Foundation files amicus brief in pending Supreme Court case that examines whether union bosses may waive employees’ statutory rights
Washington, DC (July 15, 2008) – Today the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed arguments with the United States Supreme Court seeking a reaffirmation of a lower court ruling that disallowed deals between union officials and employers to undercut employees’ statutory rights.
This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in 14 Penn Plaza LLC and Temco Service Industries, Inc. v. Steven Pyett, Thomas O’Connell, and Michael Phillips, a case which could have far-reaching implications for employees laboring under union monopoly bargaining contracts.
Pyett, O’Connell, and Phillips sued in federal District Court alleging that their employer had illegally discriminated against them on the basis of age, in violation of federal, New York state, and New York City civil rights statutes. The defendants argued unsuccessfully that the employees, as union members, had waived their right to a judicial forum for their statutory discrimination claims and sought to compel them into arbitration as provided in the collective bargaining agreement. Citing a line of case law dating back to 1974, the District Court ruled that union-negotiated waivers of statutory rights in collective bargaining agreements are unenforceable, and thus the employees retained the right to a judicial forum. The Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision on appeal.
In its brief, the Foundation explains that the regime of union monopoly bargaining – under which a union is installed as the exclusive representative of all employees in negotiations with their employer, even those who don’t want the union’s “representation” – cannot be construed to even further trump individual rights. For an individual’s right to a judicial forum to be waived in an employment contract, it must be done voluntarily. In a collective bargaining agreement, however, workers do not necessarily consent to waive their judicial forum rights, even if the contract claims that they do. For example, union officials may negotiate the arbitration clause with the employer, but they are not required to put the contract to a vote or disclose all its terms.
Even if the union membership votes to approve the contract and arbitration clause, members who chose not to vote or voted against ratification cannot be said to have voluntarily waived their rights. Furthermore, employees who started working for the employer after the contract was ratified never voted for it. Most important, employees who exercise their right to refrain from union membership almost never are allowed to vote on labor contracts.
“We hope the Court will not permit further expansion of monopoly bargaining privileges given to union officials,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “This case also concerns Big Labor’s national organizing strategy. Union officials want the ability to offer employers immunity from litigation over employees’ statutory rights if an employer will just recognize the union.”
The Foundation's amicus brief can be downloaded here.