Railway Employees' Department, American Federation of Labor v. Hanson

PETITIONER: Railway Employees' Department, American Federation of Labor

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)

ARGUED: May 02, 1956
DECIDED: May 21, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Railway Employees' Department, American Federation of Labor v. Hanson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 02, 1956 (Part 1) in Railway Employees' Department, American Federation of Labor v. Hanson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 02, 1956 (Part 2) in Railway Employees' Department, American Federation of Labor v. Hanson

Edson Smith:

Calling the -- the Court's attention to the ways that the union spends the money that it collects under compulsory union membership contracts from unwilling members and I was saying that I had printed in the appendix at the back of my brief, an excerpt from a senatorial committee report showing that the CIO in Michigan that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of union dues money to help elect democrats to public office in that State.

The investigation, by a number of the universities, showed about 40% of these union members were republicans whose dues money was going to elect candidates they personally upholds.

Thomas Jefferson wrote a number of things among them, he said this, "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."

In Section 211, it qualifies as just that.

Now, certainly, Congress couldn't impose a tax and turn the tax money over to one political party but it can do it by -- composed by imposing by Section 211, compulsory union membership.

Congress can't impose a tax over religious purposes.

This Court is so held on several occasions but unions can take their money and donate it to religious institutions and do, were recently notice in the newspaper an article that the teamsters had given $9000 to a Catholic high school in Tacoma Washington.

If it were a voluntary organization, fine.

The Protestants have done better.

The CIO, Philip Murray fund, which is made up from donations from CIO unions as well as some individual contributions, recently donated $200,000 to the National Counsel of churches.

And other unions have made donations, the largest one recently so made by the Ladies' Garment Workers' of $1 million to build a hospital in Beersheba, Israel.

That union, it said the new -- the article in Time which I have quoted in the appendix in the brief also said it donated to various or worthy projects, I would say, $25 million.

Now, this money is being taken from people on the theory that there are the free writers unless they give them -- turn their money over to the union for these purposes.

Now, I'm not going to have time to talk much about the right to work or a certain contractual rights like seniority that are involved here, but I -- I do want to mention one other thing that the union collects money for in the form of dues and fees and assessments and that its life insurance programs.

One of them requires $1.30 per month as union dues which goes to life insurance.

And this life insurance program collected out of union dues, it gives these unions a little better disciplinary power than the other ways would have because at any time, they want to exercise discipline over these involuntary members.

They can suspend them and thereby, the -- by suspending them they cancel their insurance rights or if a man who has been a union member for many, many years and this buildup a substantial value in his insurance program out of union dues should refuse to go out on strike on some occasion taken, expel him or suspend him and thereby cancel his insurance.

So that his membership and his requirement of paying dues involves -- it gives the union considerable disciplinary power over the involuntary member.

Now, the right to work, freedom of association, as I've said our -- this Court has held in a number of occasions, are fundamental rights.

Some of these fundamental rights which cannot be taken away because of protection by the Constitution cannot be taken away by the Government either state or -- or local may be taken away by private action unless they are protected by state law.

We have state laws that protect the individual from private aggression, state homicide laws.

A man's life is protected from the Federal Government by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment from State Government by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment but there's no constitutional protection from a -- other individual private action taking his life.

Now, I want to put in extreme illustration here and I'm getting the governmental action now, which is the only subject that Mr. Schoene argued.

Suppose, and I'll say it can't happen here, I'm just putting it for a drastic illustration, that Congress had said that any man who would refuse to join the -- the union may make a contract requiring that all people in the craft or class joined the union and if they refused to join, they may be executed by agreement between the union and the railroad.

Now, Mr. Schoene would say, "That's all right.

That's constitutional.

It's perfect.

It's private action.

It's purely permissive of the statute that Congress didn't make it mandatory.

The man's life is not being taken away by governmental action, it's purely private action.