Union Station: Federal appeals court rejects challenge to exclusive representation law

Federal appeals court rejects challenge to Minnesota exclusive representation law

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected a Minnesota professor’s challenge to state law allowing unions to become exclusive bargaining agents for public-sector employees in a June 16 ruling.

Parties to the suit

The plaintiff is Kathleen Uradnik, a political science professor at St. Cloud State University. Attorneys from The Buckeye Institute and Baker & Hostetler represent her. The Buckeye Institute describes itself as “an independent research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to advance free-market public policy in the states.” 

The defendants are the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO), St. Cloud State University, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees. Attorneys from Cummins & Cummins and the state attorney general’s office represent the defendants. 

What’s at issue, and how the lower court ruled

Uradnik’s original complaint, filed in July 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, claimed that by “designating the Union as the Plaintiff’s exclusive representative,

Minnesota law and the [IFO’s collective bargaining agreement] violate the Plaintiff’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” Uradnik also claimed the union violated the First Amendment because it “[negotiates] special preferences for union members, including preferences that tilt the scales in union members’ favor in such matters as tenure and promotion decisions.”

Minnesota’s Public Employment Labor Relations Act allows for “an employee organization which has been certified by the commissioner … to meet and negotiate with the employer on behalf of all employees in the appropriate unit.”

In September 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied Uradnik’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Uradnik appealed the decision to the Eighth Circuit, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling in December 2018, and then to the Supreme Court, which denied the appeal in April 2019. 

The case then resumed in the District of Minnesota, and the court ruled in favor of the defendants on Dec. 5, 2019. Judge Paul Magnuson, appointed by President Ronald Reagan (R), cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Minnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knight (1984). In that case, a group of non-union community college instructors objected to a Minnesota statute allowing an exclusive representative to speak on behalf of all of a bargaining unit’s employees at “meet and confer” sessions. The Supreme Court ruled Minnesota had “in no way restrained [the instructors’] freedom to speak … or their freedom to associate or not to associate with whom they please.” Magnuson said, “Knight and [Bierman v. Dayton] foreclose Plaintiff’s claims. No genuine dispute of material fact exists, and she cannot prevail on this issue. Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” 

Uradnik then appealed the decision to the Eighth Circuit. 

How the Eighth Circuit ruled

The three-judge appellate panel unanimously affirmed the district court’s decision on June 16. Judge L. Steven Grasz, who was appointed to the court by President Donald Trump (R), wrote:

We review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the record in the light most favorable to, and drawing all reasonable inferences for, Uradnik. … We review the district court’s decision to deny leave to amend for abuse of discretion and any underlying legal determinations de novo. … Because Uradnik properly concedes that the district court correctly rejected her compelled-speech claim (Count I), we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment on her Count I claims. Like the district court, we are bound by precedent, and only the Supreme Court can provide the relief she seeks. …

Otherwise, Uradnik mainly focuses her brief on challenging the district court’s holding that she did not properly plead an unconstitutional-conditions claim in Count II of her complaint. We affirm the district court. 

Judges Raymond Gruender, appointed by President George W. Bush (R), and Jane Kelly, appointed by President Barack Obama (D), joined Grasz’s opinion. 

The case name and number are Kathleen Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Organization, et al. (19-03749).

About the Eighth Circuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit hears appeals from the district courts within its jurisdiction, which includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The chief judge of the Eighth Circuit is Lavenski Smith, a Bush appointee. Of the court’s 11 active judges, Bush appointed five, and Trump appointed four. George H.W. Bush (R) and Obama each appointed one judge to the court.    

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 94 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. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. 

  • Delaware HB237: This bill would grant select law enforcement officers the right of organization and representation.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • House passed June 22, assigned to Senate Corrections and Public Safety Committee. Hearing scheduled for June 29.  
  • Oregon SB580: This bill would amend the law’s definition of “employment relations” to include class size and caseload limits as mandatory collective bargaining subjects for school districts.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • House speaker signed June 21.