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Buckeye Institute asks court to look at Thompson case

An Ohio think tank has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case that says a Marietta teacher should not be compelled to let a labor union speak for her.

While union membership is not required for unionized jobs, dues are sometimes required to pay for collective bargaining done on behalf of employee groups.

The Buckeye Institute said it filed a petition Friday with the nation’s highest court on behalf of Jade Thompson, a Spanish teacher at Marietta High School. The case revolves around the concept that collective bargaining units, in this case the Marietta Education Association, speak on behalf of all members.

“In this instance, Ohio law recognizes a labor union as representing and speaking on behalf of Ms. Thompson, despite her vehement opposition to its positions and advocacy on issues ranging from fiscal policy to school administration,” the Buckeye Institute’s president and CEO, Robert Alt, wrote in the petition to the high court.

Thompson’s case

The case began in 2018, when Thompson filed her case in the United State District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, against the association and the Marietta Board of Education.

Though she isn’t a member of the union, Thompson is against any association she has with it, as defined by Ohio law, according to the filing.

The complaint called the labor union’s method of taking money from public employee paychecks as dues an “unlawful scheme” done “without their affirmative consent.”

The Marietta Education Association argued the collective bargaining law does not require Thompson to be an MEA member or to pay fees.

“She is also free to express her own views,” they told the court. “Neither her employer nor reasonable outsiders would believe that all bargaining unit workers necessarily agree with the MEA’s positions.”

Thompson’s problems with the labor union peaked in 2010, when her husband, the late Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson was in the midst of his campaign.

When the Ohio Education Association campaigned against Andy Thompson, the president of the Marietta Education Association emailed teachers at the high school pushing them to vote against him, according to court documents.

“Ms. Thompson’s agency fees fund the activities of the Union, the National Education Association and the Ohio Education Association,” her complaint stated.

U.S. Supreme Court precedent

Jade Thompson’s attorneys argued that First Amendment rights include “the rights not to speak and not to associate,” and therefore Ohio law’s governing labor unions violate the principles of that law.

“Just like any other organizations, a church, a charity, an activist group, a labor union has no inherent right to any individual’s money, and the government, therefore, may not simply deduct union fees of any kind from a public employee’s paycheck absent that employee’s affirmative consent,” Thompson’s attorneys wrote in her original complaint.

The complaint was spurred on by the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, a case out of Illinois in which the court ruled that making non-members pay public union fees is a violation of the First Amendment.

The district court ruled in favor of the labor union, saying Thompson’s contention that the union speaks for her is “inaccurate,” and that the union only represents her in terms of collective bargaining “rather than purporting to espouse specific views for any individual member,” Judge Michael Watson wrote.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, and said the Supreme Court established precedent in a Minnesota case in which the U.S. Supreme Court said community college professors did not have their First Amendment rights infringed because they were not required to become members of the labor union.

The Buckeye Institute filed its petition on Jan. 22 and said the Minnesota case cited as precedent by the appeals court broadly sanctions “compelled representation of unwilling public employees … irrespective of their speech and associational interests.”

The institute argued that despite not being a member of the union, Thompson is still represented by it.

“The state of Ohio has imposed upon Ms. Thompson a government-appointed lobbyist who works on her behalf and in her name, as her ‘agent’ and ‘representative,’ even though she disagrees with the positions it attributes to her,” according to the petition.

Susan Tebben is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal: ohiocapitaljournal.com.

Petition is filed

COLUMBUS — On Friday, The Buckeye Institute filed its petition for certiorari in Thompson v. Marietta Education Association with the United States Supreme Court.

Buckeye’s petition “calls on the Court to hear this important First Amendment case and end laws forcing public-sector employees to accept a union’s unwanted representation.”

“For far too long, Jade Thompson has been forced to speak through and associate with a union of which she is not even a member in violation of her First Amendment rights,” said Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer of The Buckeye Institute and a lead attorney on the case. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that old case law required it to rule against Ms. Thompson, while nonetheless concluding that Ohio’s ‘take-it-or-leave-it system’ of exclusive representation directly conflicts with the principles announced in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision — a discrepancy that can be resolved only by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Monday) The Buckeye Institute asked the high court to do just that by taking Ms. Thompson’s case and vindicating her First Amendment rights.”

Thompson’s case was initially filed on June 27, 2018, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, with its motion for preliminary injunction filed on July 23, 2018.

The case was then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on February 18, 2020.

“Laws forcing teachers like Jade Thompson to accept compulsory union representation are unconstitutional and incompatible with the freedom of speech and the freedom of association,” said Andrew M. Grossman, partner at BakerHostetler in Washington, D.C., and counsel of record on the petition. “The U.S. Supreme Court must protect the First Amendment rights of Ms. Thompson and public employees across the country.”

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