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Maine professor tries to end unions’ monopoly right to represent workers

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Jonathan Reisman is an associate professor of economics and public policy in Maine, and lately, he hasn’t been happy with representation from his NEA-affiliated union. Now his fight has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Specifically, Reisman doesn’t like that the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine (AFUM) is his “exclusive representative.” Exclusive representation means that once a union gets recognized as the official representative of teachers or other employees in a workplace, it does all the negotiating and talking with the employer. Individual teachers cannot represent themselves, nor can they pick a different union to represent them.

So, in 2018, following the spirit of the Janus v AFSCME ruling, Reisman sued the union to regain freedom over who negotiates his pay and work conditions. In pursuing the lawsuit, Reisman explained that the Janus ruling protected his freedom of association by allowing him to leave the union without having to pay a non-member fair share fee.

“But the union still has the ability to be my exclusive representative, and I’m still associated with the positions that they take,” he said. “That really is the problem.”

Reisman’s case was first dismissed in December 2018 by a U.S. district court in Maine, and then by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in October 2019. Now his Buckeye Institute attorneys have filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The parties expect to learn within a few weeks if the Supreme Court will hear Reisman’s case, which is the third that the Buckeye Institute has filed that challenges exclusive representation.

Like Reisman, we would also like to see an end to exclusive representation. In fact, the major labor unions sought to make exclusive representation law in most states, including Pennsylvania. 

After succeeding, unions then accused workers who didn’t join of being “free riders”—even though such workers didn’t want their representation. Non-members were thus required to pay the unwanted union so-called fair share fees. 

Though fair share fees are now illegal, unions in most public schools and other government workplaces still have to represent members and non-members alike. Ideally, legislators should change Pennsylvania state law so that unions are required to represent only their members over pay and work conditions.

Non-members could then represent themselves with employers or seek other options. That’s freedom of choice and association—and it’s the genuine fairness Reisman and other educators want.

Photo: Jonathan Reisman, courtesy of Buckeye Institute.


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