A series of post-Knox cases were filed this week in Michigan. The lead plaintiff (or “charging party”) is Miriam Chanski, a public school kindergarten teacher. She claims that after Michigan enacted a right-to-work law last March, she opted out of the Michigan Education Association, a public sector union, in May. She says she later discovered that the union had imposed (with no notice) a window of opting out only in August. Because she did not opt out in August, the union claims she is still a member and must continue to pay dues for another year. Chanski has challenged this procedure under Michigan state labor law, including the new right-to-work law. But her charge contains this statement about Knox: “There are indications from the federal courts that unions requiring an employee to ‘opt out’ to preserve their rights is disfavored; and rather, that requiring employees to affirmatively ‘opt in’ is the option which preserves the employees’ rights. See, SEIU v. Knox, 132 SCt 2277 (2012).” If the matter gets beyond state law, what appears to be potentially at stake here is whether public sector employees have a First Amendment right to opt out at any time.
Jack Goldsmith is the Henry L. Shattuck Professor at Harvard Law School, where he teaches and writes about national security law, international law, internet law, and, recently, labor history. Before coming to Harvard, Professor Goldsmith served as Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel from 2003-2004, and Special Counsel to the Department of Defense from 2002-2003. Professor Goldsmith is writing a book about Jimmy Hoffa’s place in American history. He can be reached at [email protected]More by this Author »