Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Targeting Union Employees For Layoffs Violates The First Amendment

State Employee Bargaining Coalitation v. Roland, ___F.3d___( 2d Cir. May 31, 2013), is an important case. I am surprised that this case has not gotten alot of national press. The 2d Circuit holds that targeting Union employees for layoff violates the First Amendment. The court applies strict scrutiny and reasoned as follows:
 
We ourselves have stated thatit cannot “be questioned that the First Amendment’s protection of speech and
associational rights extends to labor union activities.” Conn. State Fed’n of Teachers v.
Bd. of Educ. Members, 538 F.2d 471, 478 (2d Cir. 1976); see also Int’l Longshoremen’s
Ass’n v. Waterfront Comm’n of N.Y. Harbor, 642 F.2d 666, 670 (2d Cir. 1981) (“The
First Amendment’s protection of the right of association extends to labor union
activities.”).
However, we have never articulated a standard for determining whether, and under
what circumstances, a public entity’s employment decisions violate this right to associate
in unions. With respect to a public employee’s right to associate with political parties, the
Supreme Court stated in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois that government employers
may not “condition[] hiring decisions on political belief and association . . . unless the
government has a vital interest in doing so.” 497 U.S. 62, 78 (1990); see also Branti v.
Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 520 (1980) (holding that termination of public defenders because
they were not affiliated with Democratic Party violated First Amendment); Elrod v.
Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 372-73 (1976) (holding that public employees who alleged they
were discharged because they were not members of sheriff’s political party stated a First
Amendment claim); Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 609-10 (1967)
(invalidating state university system’s prohibition on membership in Communist Party).
The Supreme Court was concerned that the government would “wield[] its power to
interfere with its employees’ freedom to believe and associate,” Rutan, 497 U.S. at 76,
and noted that “conditioning public employment on the provision of support for the
favored political party ‘unquestionably inhibits protected belief and association,’” id. at
69, quoting Elrod, 427 U.S. at 359. It therefore held that hiring based on political party
affiliation was subject to strict scrutiny and must be “narrowly tailored to further vital
government interests.” Rutan, 497 U.S. at 74; see also Branti, 445 U.S. at 515-16
(requiring “an overriding interest of vital importance” to fire a public employee solely for
his private beliefs (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).
Conditioning public employment on union membership, no less than on political
association, inhibits protected association and interferes with government employees’
freedom to associate. It is therefore subject to the same strict scrutiny, and may be done
only “in the most compelling circumstances.” Rutan, 497 U.S. at 76.

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/2013/07/targeting-union-employees-for-layoffs-violates-the-first-amendment.html

Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Public Sector Labor Law, Unions | Permalink

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