Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977)

2011-10-10 02:56:06

In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that assessment of mandatory service charges on nonunion members in an agency shop to finance union expenditures for collective bargaining did not violate their First Amendment rights. However, the Court prohibited unions from requiring employees to contribute to the support of ideological causes to which they might be opposed as a condition of holding their jobs as public school teachers. Noting that the First Amendment safeguards the freedom to associate with others and contribute money to advance ideas and promote beliefs and that those protections are not surrendered by virtue of public employment, the Court decided compulsory contributions by union members for political purposes violate the First Amendment.

The First Amendment precludes the state from compelling association with a political point of view to retain public employment. The Court stressed, however, that the ruling did not stop the union from spending money to advance a political viewpoint or help a candidate to gain office. Rather, the First Amendment demands such political expenditures be funded by union members who neither oppose nor are forced to support those political ideas by the threat of loss of employment with the government.

By safeguarding individuals from being forced to contribute to causes they oppose as a condition of employment, Abood provides significant First Amendment protection against compelled financing of political or ideological speech.


References and Further Reading

  • Ogeka, Charles J., Respecting Nonunion Member Employees’ Rights While Avoiding a Free Ride. Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Ass’n, Hofstra Labor Law Journal 10 (1992): 349–373
  • Schoen, Edward J. et al., United Foods and Wileman Bros: Protection Against Compelled Commercial Speech—Now You See It, Now You Don’t, American Business Law Journal 39 (2002): 467–520
  • Skaare, Jessica J., Constitutional Law—First Amendment: University Fees Can Speak for Students: The Constitutionality of a University’s Right to Fund Student Speech Via a Mandated Activities Fee, North Dakota Law Review (2001): 549–586

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • International Association of Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740 (1961) (Union shops must not use compulsory assessments to support political activities against the expressed wishes of dissenting employees.) 
  • Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990) (Compulsory bar association dues may not be expended to advance political causes, but may be spent for disciplining bar members or proposing ethical codes for the legal profession.) 
  • Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, 500 U.S. 507 (1991) (The state cannot compel its unionized employees to subsidize legislative lobbying or other political union activities outside the context of labor contract ratification or implementation.)