Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association

Decision Date30 May 1991
Docket NumberNo. 89-1217,89-1217
Citation111 S.Ct. 1950,114 L.Ed.2d 572,500 U.S. 507
PartiesJames P. LEHNERT, et al., Petitioners v. FERRIS FACULTY ASSOCIATION et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Rehearing Denied June 24, 1991. See --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 2978.


Subsequent to Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209, 97 S.Ct. 1782, 52 L.Ed.2d 261, in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act's agency-shop provision and outlined permissible union uses of the "service fee" authorized by the provision, respondent Ferris Faculty Association (FFA), which is an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the National Education Association (NEA), and which serves as the exclusive bargaining representative of the faculty of Michigan's Ferris State College, a public institution, entered into an agency-shop arrangement with the college, whereby bargaining unit employees who do not belong to the FFA are required to pay it, the MEA, and the NEA a service fee equivalent to a union member's dues. Petitioners, members of the Ferris faculty who objected to particular uses by the unions of their service fees, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986, claiming, inter alia, that such uses for purposes other than negotiating and administering the collective-bargaining agreement violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. As here relevant, the District Court held that certain of the union expenditures were constitutionally chargeable to petitioners. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that each of the activities in question was sufficiently related to the unions' duties as petitioners' exclusive collective-bargaining representative to justify compelling petitioners to assist in subsidizing it.

Held: The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded.

881 F.2d 1388 (CA6 1989), affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Justice BLACKMUN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-B, III-C, IV-B (except for the final paragraph), IV-D, IV-E, and IV-F, concluding that:

1. Abood and other of the Court's decisions in this area set forth guidelines for determining which activities a union constitutionally may charge to dissenting employees. Specifically, chargeable activities must (1) be "germane" to collective-bargaining activity; (2) be justified by the government's vital policy interest in labor peace and avoiding "free rid- ers" who benefit from union efforts without paying for union services; and (3) not significantly add to the burdening of free speech that is inherent in the allowance of an agency or union shop. Pp. 514-519.

2. A local bargaining representative may charge objecting employees for their pro rata share of the costs associated with otherwise chargeable activities of its state and national affiliates, even if those activities were not performed for the direct benefit of the objecting employees' bargaining unit. Because the essence of the affiliation relationship is the notion that the parent union will bring to bear its often considerable economic, political, and informational resources when the local is in need of them, that part of a local's affiliation fee which contributes to the pool of resources potentially available to it is assessed for the bargaining unit's protection, even if it is not actually expended on that unit in any particular membership year. Cf. Ellis v. Railway Clerks, 466 U.S. 435, 448, 104 S.Ct. 1883, 1892, 80 L.Ed.2d 428. This does not give the local union carte blanche, since there must be some indication that the payment is for services that may ultimately enure to the benefit of the local's members by virtue of their membership in the parent organization, and since the union bears the burden of proving the proportion of chargeable expenses to total expenses. Pp. 522-524.

3. Justice SCALIA's "statutory duties" test is not supported by this Court's cases and must be rejected, since state labor laws are rarely precise in defining public-sector unions' duties to their members and therefore afford courts and litigants little guidance for determining which charges violate dissenting employees' First Amendment rights; since the test fails to acknowledge that effective representation often encompasses responsibilities extending beyond those specifically delineated by statute; and since the test turns constitutional doctrine on its head, making violations of freedom of speech dependent upon the terms of state statutes. Pp. 524-527.

4. In light of the foregoing general principles, certain of the union activities at issue may constitutionally be supported through objecting employees' funds. Pp. 527, 529-532.

(a) NEA "program expenditures" destined for States other than Michigan and the expenses of an MEA publication, the Teacher's Voice, listed as "Collective Bargaining" are germane to collective-bargaining and similar support services even though the activities in question do not directly benefit persons in petitioners' bargaining unit. P. 527.

(b) Information services such as portions of the Teacher's Voice that concern teaching and education generally, professional development, unemployment, job opportunities, MEA award programs, and other miscellaneous matters are neither political nor public in nature, are for the benefit of all even though they do not directly concern the members of petitioners' bargaining unit, and entail no additional infringement of First Amendment rights. Cf. Ellis, 466 U.S., at 456, 104 S.Ct., at 1896. P. 529.

(c) Participation by FFA delegates in the MEA and NEA conventions and in the 13E Coordinating Council meeting, an event at which bargaining strategies and representational policies are developed for bargaining units including petitioners', are likely to engender important affiliation benefits, since such conventions are essential to the union's discharge of its bargaining agent duties even though they are not solely devoted to FFA activities. Cf. Ellis, 466 U.S., at 448-449, 104 S.Ct., at 1892-1893. P. 529-530.

(d) Expenses incident to preparation for a strike all concede would have been illegal under Michigan law are substantively indistinguishable from those appurtenant to collective-bargaining negotiations, aid in those negotiations and enure to the direct benefit of members of the dissenters' unit, and impose no additional burden upon First Amendment rights. Pp. 530-532.

Justice BLACKMUN, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, Justice WHITE, and Justice STEVENS, concluded in Parts III-A and IV-A, in the final paragraph of Part IV-B, and in Part IV-C, that certain other of the union activities at issue may not constitutionally be supported through objecting employees' funds. Pp. 519-522, 527, 528-529.

(a) Charging dissenters for lobbying, electoral, or other union political activities outside the limited context of contract ratification or implementation is not justified by the government's interest in promoting labor peace and avoiding "free riders," and, most important, would compel dissenters to engage in core political speech with which they disagree, thus placing a burden upon their First Amendment rights that extends far beyond acceptance of the agency shop. Pp. 519-522.

(b) A union program designed to secure funds for public education in Michigan and that portion of the Teacher's Voice which reported those efforts were not shown to be oriented toward the ratification or implementation of petitioners' collective-bargaining agreement. P. 527.

(c) Litigation that does not concern petitioners' bargaining unit and, by extension, union literature reporting on such litigation are not germane to the union's duties as exclusive bargaining representative. Cf. Ellis, 466 U.S., at 453, 104 S.Ct., at 1894. Extra-unit litigation is akin to lobbying in its political and expressive nature and may cover a diverse range of activities, from bankruptcy proceedings to employment discrimination. P. 528.

(d) Public relations efforts designed to enhance the reputation of the teaching profession and covering information picketing, media exposure, signs, posters, and buttons entail speech of a political nature in a public forum, are not sufficiently related to the union's collective-bargaining functions, and extend beyond the negotiation and grievance-resolution contexts to impose a substantially greater burden upon First Amendment rights. Ellis, 466 U.S., at 456, 104 S.Ct., at 1896, distinguished. Pp. 528-529.

Justice SCALIA, joined by Justice O'CONNOR, Justice KENNEDY, and Justice SOUTER, although agreeing with Justice BLACKMUN's disposition of many of the challenged expenditures, concluded that the Court's three-part test is neither required nor suggested by its earlier cases and provides little if any guidance to parties or lower courts, and that a much more administrable test is implicit in the earlier decisions: a union may constitutionally compel contributions from dissenting nonmembers in an agency shop only for the costs of performing the union's statutory duties as exclusive bargaining agent. See, e.g., Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740, 749, 760-764, 768, 81 S.Ct. 1784, 1789, 1795-1798, 1799, 6 L.Ed.2d 1141; id., at 787, 81 S.Ct., at 1808 (Black, J., dissenting). Applying the latter test, Justice SCALIA also concluded, inter alia, that a number of the challenged expenses, including those for public relations activities and lobbying, cannot be charged to nonmembers. Pp. 1954-1961.

BLACKMUN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-B, III-C, IV-B (except for the final paragraph), IV-D, IV-E, and IV-F, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts III-A and IV-A, the final paragraph of Part IV-B, and Parts IV-C and V, in which...

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