Nurse Jeanette Geary finally achieved a total victory in her 11-year legal battle against union bosses that established important National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and federal court precedents. She and 99 other current and former nurses at Kent Hospital in Rhode Island received refunds of forced union dues that were illegally used to support union political lobbying in state legislatures. Geary received free legal representation throughout her fight from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Geary lost faith in the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) union bosses in her workplace after a series of broken promises. “Over time,” Geary said, “I realized what the union was doing. The union leadership had no interest in nurses or our professional work. Their only interest was collection of dues and fees.”
Geary resigned her union membership, but still had union dues extracted from her paycheck because Rhode Island is a forced unionism state that lacks Right to Work protections. However, thanks to the Foundation-won CWA v. Beck Supreme Court decision, nonmember workers can only be forced to pay fees for union activities directly “germane” to union monopoly bargaining. They cannot be forced to pay the portion of regular dues that funds activities like union political lobbying.
Geary demanded a breakdown of the union’s expenditures, but union bosses refused to provide her with a legally-required independent audit verifying how it calculated nonmembers’ reduced forced fees. Like many who speak up against union bosses, Geary became a target for union harassment. “They laughed at me. They had their workplace reps ridicule me on the job and tell me I could file grievances that would be thrown away and said so with a big smile,” Geary said.
In 2009, Geary filed federal charges against union officials. The trial revealed UNAP officials were charging nonmember nurses for lobbying in state legislatures. Despite the Supreme Court’s clear mandate in Beck that nonmembers’ money could not be used to fund political causes, union lawyers argued the lobbying was “germane” to the union’s monopoly bargaining.
In 2012, the NLRB, stacked with President Obama’s appointees, sided with union officials under a rationale that would have made almost any union lobbying chargeable to nonmembers if it could somehow be explained as related to union bargaining. That decision was later vacated because Obama’s recess appointments to the Board were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, so the NLRB lacked a valid quorum.
After the Supreme Court’s decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning rendered invalid the Obama Board’s decision in Geary’s case, the case lingered at the NLRB for years. After seven more years of delay, Foundation attorneys filed a mandamus petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit demanding an NLRB decision, prompting the Board to finally issue a valid decision in Geary’s case.
In March of 2019, President Trump’s NLRB ruled 3-1 that union officials cannot charge nonmembers for lobbying of any kind. It also ruled that union officials must provide independent verification that the union expenses they charge to nonmembers have been audited.
However, union officials refused to abandon their argument that nonmembers could be forced to pay for union lobbying as a condition of employment. Union lawyers appealed the NLRB’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Foundation attorneys successfully defended Geary’s case before a three-judge panel that included retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter. The panel ruled unanimously in Geary’s favor, saying “we see no convincing argument that legislative lobbying is not a ‘political’ activity,” affirming that under the Foundation-won Supreme Court precedent of Communications Workers v. Beck, nonmember workers could never be charged for such union activities.
Union officials made a last ditch attempt to overturn the decision, requesting an en banc hearing by the entire Court of Appeals, but that request was denied. Last week, union bosses finally paid back, with interest, nearly $8,000 taken from Geary and 99 other current and former Kent Hospital nurses who were not union members but were charged for the union’s lobbying, bringing the decade-long case to a close.
“Jeanette Geary shows the difference one brave employee can make standing up to Big Labor coercion. The National Right to Work Foundation is proud to have assisted her through her 11 year fight to defend her legal rights and those of her colleagues,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix. “After years of enduring workplace harassment and neglect from union partisans, Ms. Geary moved to North Carolina, a Right to Work state that doesn’t force her to give any portion of her paycheck to union bosses. Thanks to her bravery, workers in the 23 non-Right to Work states have additional legal protections against being forced to fund union boss political activities.”