U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Constitutional Challenge to Railway Labor Act’s Union Security Provision

January 13, 2017

On January 6, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Serna, et al. v. Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, Case No. 16-484, declining to hear a constitutional challenge to the Railway Labor Act’s union security provision.  Under the RLA’s union security provision, collective bargaining agreements may require all represented employees, whether members of the union or not, to pay their share of the costs of union representation.

In Serna, a class action suit handled by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a group of airline employees represented by, but not members of, the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO (TWU), claimed that the RLA’s union security provision violated their First Amendment rights.  They also claimed that TWU violated the First Amendment rights of nonmembers by requiring them to file an objection with the union if they opposed paying for union expenses beyond the expenses germane to collective bargaining.

A federal district court in Texas rejected the Serna plaintiffs’ claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  In asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the plaintiffs argued that the Supreme Court should overturn longstanding precedent holding the RLA’s union security clause to be constitutional and allowing unions to require dissenting nonmembers to file objections.  By denying plaintiffs’ petition, the Supreme Court left undisturbed the lower court rulings in Serna that rejected plaintiffs’ claims.

Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP partners Michael Winston and Peter DeChiara prepared TWU’s opposition to the Serna plaintiffs’ Supreme Court petition.