Bill Expanding Union Rights in Response to Janus Supreme Court Decision in Limbo

July 18, 2019

Published in NEHRA News (7/18/2019)

Last month, the Massachusetts House passed a bill that would allow public sector unions to charge non-members fees for services such as representation in grievances and collective bargaining negotiations.  The bill was drafted in response to the 2018 United States Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which the Court ruled that public sector employees who are not union members cannot be compelled to pay union fees.  In Janus, Justice Alito, writing for a 5-4 majority, held that an Illinois law authorizing public sector unions to assess fees to non-union members representing their proportionate share of union dues violated the employees’ free speech rights under the First Amendment by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern. 

The Massachusetts bill is aimed at ensuring that dues-paying union members do not end up footing the bill for non-members for important services like grievance representation from which both members and non-members benefit.  In addition to allowing unions to charge non-members fees for certain services, the Massachusetts bill also provides unions with other new rights, including access to public employees’ personal contact information and to a public employer’s email system as well as allowing union representatives to meet with members at their workplace, to conduct meetings at the workplace during breaks or non-work hours, and to meet with newly hired employees within ten days after they are hired. 

Last week, Governor Baker, citing concerns over employee privacy, returned the bill to the legislature unsigned.  While Governor Baker said he supports allowing unions to charge nonmembers fees for services such as grievance representation, he does not support the provision in the bill that would give unions access to public employees’ personal contact information, such as their cell phone numbers.  Governor Baker returned the bill with a proposed amendment that addresses his concerns.  His proposed changes include not giving unions access to employees’ personal cell phone numbers, banning the use of text messages to communicate with members without their written consent, requiring unions to give new employees written information about their rights to join or not join the union, and requiring unions to give an agency notice before using its building for union business. 

The legislature will now have to decide whether to adopt the proposed amendment or pass the bill again without it.  If the bill passes without the amendment, Governor Baker can veto the bill.  A two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate would be needed to override his veto.  Public sector employers should stayed tuned to see whether the legislature adopts Governor Baker’s amendment.