Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1 v. Hudson

Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1 v. Hudson (1986) was significant for school labor relations, because in it the U.S. Supreme Court found that a union’s process for accommodating nonmember teachers, sometimes referred to as “free-riders,” who had money automatically deducted from their paychecks to cover the union’s costs associated with collective bargaining, did not sufficiently ensure the protection of the First Amendment rights of nonmembers. The Court reasoned that the union’s procedures for collecting these fees were unacceptable, because the monies that they collected from nonunion teachers could possibly have been used for political activities that the nonunion teachers did not support.

Facts of the Case

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) had represented about 95% of the faculty and staff of Chicago’s public schools in negotiations over pay and benefits since the late 1960s. The CTU was the sole organization allowed to bargain collectively such that all teachers in Chicago’s public schools received the same salary increases and other incentives that it negotiated, regardless of whether they were members. As the teaching ranks grew in size, more and more nonunion teachers benefited from its activities. From the union’s perspective, this was unjust, because the nonunion teachers were not contributing portions of their salary to support its activities associated with bargaining. In attempting to remedy this situation, the union and the Chicago Board of Education agreed that the union could demand “proportionate share payments” or “fair-share fees” that would be taken out of the nonunion teachers’ wages.

The CTU knew that implementing de facto mandatory union membership would have been controversial and that further administrative procedures would have been needed to ensure that the nonmembers would have had ways to challenge the withholding of salary to support its activities. The first step the CTU took was to ask nonmembers to contribute only 95% of the standard union dues. The CTU rounded this reduction up from the actual cost of collective bargaining for nonmembers and related union activities. The CTU also developed a process by which nonmembers could object to the “proportionate share payments” by contacting its president in writing. The complaints of the nonmember would then have initiated a multistep process to judge their objections.

The first part of the process would have been for the union’s executive committee to take up the merits of the objection and to notify the nonmember of the outcome of such discussion within 30 days. If nonmembers were not satisfied with the initial response, their next step was to appeal to the union’s executive board within 30 days. If the nonmembers were still dissatisfied with the response to their appeal, the union president would pick an arbitrator to make a final judgment on the matter.

The nonmembers of the CTU sought judicial relief from this procedure, claiming that it was unconstitutional, because it contravened the First and Fourteenth amendments. In addition, the nonmembers held that the CTU was proposing using the deducted monies for activities that were not permitted under the law. A federal trial court in Illinois was satisfied that the procedure passed constitutional muster. However, on appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded on the grounds that the inadequate procedures violated the First Amendment rights of the nonunion teachers.

The Court’s Ruling

On further review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit’s order, identifying three main points in its rationale. First, the Court observed that a balance had to be struck between the nonmembers’ right not to have salary deductions used in ideological union activities and the union’s right to compel nonmembers to provide financial support for its collective bargaining activities. To this end, the Court noted that the CTU was required to have a process in place to minimize the encroachment on nonmembers’ First Amendment rights.

Second, the Court was of the opinion that the CTU had to take up nonmembers’ objections to the deductions in a timely fashion. Third, even though the CTU attempted to remedy the nonunion teachers’ concerns by using escrow accounts for the deductions during the administrative procedures, the Court thought that this was an inadequate solution, because union officials failed to explain why the salary deduction had to occur and why the CTU did not provide a process for objection by an objective and independent arbitrator.

Hudson stands out as one of four Supreme Court cases on the rights of nonunion members who are asked to help unions to pay for the cost of collective bargaining. As in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, (1977), Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association (1991)— a case set in higher education—and Davenport v. Washington Education Association (2007), the Court ruled that unions could collect fair share fees from nonmembers only if adequate safeguards were in place to protect their First Amendment rights not to have to pay for activities with which they disagreed.

Aaron Cooley

See also Abood v. Detroit Board of Education; Collective Bargaining; Davenport v. Washington Education Association; First Amendment; Political Activities and Speech of Teachers; Teacher Rights; Unions

Further Readings

  • Henderson, R., Urban, W., & Wolman, P. (Eds.). (2004). Teachers, unions and education policy. Volume 3: Retrenchment or reform? New York: JAI Press. 
  • Loveless, T. (Ed.). (2000). Conflicting missions? Teachers, unions and educational reform. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. 

Legal Citations