Massachusetts state legislator proposes bill giving liability protections to unions during COVID-19 outbreak

On April 23, Sen. Paul Feeney (D) introduced S2700, which would grant liability protections to unions that advise their members of their right to refuse to work due to abnormally dangerous conditions.

What does the bill propose?

Section 2 of the bill proposes that “it shall be unlawful to file a civil action for damages against any employee organization or union for advising their bargaining unit members of their right to refuse to work because of an abnormally dangerous condition at the place of the employment.”

The legislation would also grant liability protections to construction contractors and sub-contractors. It would take effect immediately upon passage and apply retroactively to any claims arising during the COVID-19 state of emergency, which was declared by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) on March 10.

What comes next?

Both the upper and lower chambers of the Massachusetts General Court are considering the bill simultaneously. The bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, where it is awaiting action.

Political context: Massachusetts has a divided government. Gov. Charlie Baker is a Republican. Democrats, meanwhile, have veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Minnesota public-sector workers sue for refunds of previously paid union fees

On May 8, six Minnesota state workers filed two class action lawsuits in U.S. district court against their unions. The plaintiffs want the unions to refund an estimated $19 million in fees paid before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision.

Who are the parties to the suits?

  • Fellows v. MAPE (0:20-cv-01128):
    • Plaintiffs: Mark Fellows, a Department of Human Services employee; Catherine Wyatt, a former Department of Revenue employee; and Alicia Bonner, a Department of Employment and Economic Development employee.
      • Representation: Greenberg Traurig; LLP; Liberty Justice Center; National Right to Work Foundation; Upper Midwest Law Center.
    • Defendant: Minnesota Association of Professional Employees
      • MAPE is a union representing about 12,500 professional public-sector employees..

What is at issue, and what comes next?

In both suits, attorneys for the plaintiffs argue the unions illegally compelled employees within their bargaining units to pay union fees. They argue that, after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Harris v. Quinn in 2014, the unions “should have known that [their] agency fee seizures may violate public employees’ First Amendment rights.” In Harris v. Quinn, the court struck down an Illinois statute compelling a specific class of home healthcare workers to pay fees to the Service Employees International Union.

The cases are both pending adjudication in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

What we’ve been reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 95 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

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Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state, then by bill number. The partisan affiliation of bill sponsor(s) is also provided.

  • California SB1173: Existing law requires public employers to provide unions with contact information for all employees within the bargaining unit. Existing law also requires that public employers provide unions with contact information for new employees within 30 days of hire. This bill would impose liability on employers who violate these provisions 3 or more times in a 12-month period.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate Labor, Public Employment, and Retirement Committee hearing scheduled May 14.
  • Louisiana HB572: This bill would allow teachers and other school employees to cease withholding union dues from their wages at any time upon submitting a written or email request.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • House Labor Committee hearing scheduled May 14.
  • Massachusetts S2700: This bill would make it unlawful to file a civil action against any union for advising its members of their right to refuse to work “because of an abnormally dangerous condition at the place of employment.”
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Referred to Joint Judiciary Committee May 7.