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Lawsuit Over Pro-Union Construction Contracts Avoids Dismissal

Jul 26, 2021

An independent union, along with several businesses and individual workers, have standing to
sue three Minnesota cities and a public sanitary district for entering into project labor
agreements that guarantee work for members of the local building trades unions, a U.S. judge

Siding with the plaintiffs, U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank of the U.S. District Court for the
District of Minnesota said the labor agreements in question may violate the U.S. Supreme
Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which the high court ruled that requiring public
employees to pay union fees violates the workers’ First Amendment speech rights.

The project labor agreements would require non-union members to pay fees to the building
trades unions to work on a publicly funded project, Frank wrote.

“The claim plausibly alleges a violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional protections, even if the
membership requirement boils down to just a financial commitment,” Frank wrote.
The legal challenge, if successful, could limit the scope of project labor agreements designed to
maintain a high wage scale—typically set by unions—through public spending. While Frank
didn’t overtly agree with the plaintiffs’ arguments, he said they were potentially convincing.

“Even if the membership requirement was nothing more than a financial commitment, the Court finds that compulsory union payments still constitute a particularized, concrete injury, the judge said.

But he did toss out plaintiffs’ argument that the project labor agreements violate antitrust laws,
saying the argument wasn’t legally sound.

The lawsuit was brought by the Christian Labor Organization, a small, independent union with
historical ties to the Christian Reformed Church, along with three companies and two individual
workers. The Christian Labor Organization had about 1,500 members in 2020, according to
federal disclosures.

The organization says member dues don’t support political activity as a matter of principle, and
it favors a less adversarial approach in dealings with management, according to the union’s

The case is Christian Labor Ass’n v. City of Duluth, D. Minn., No. 21-227, 7/2/21

Source: Bloomberg BNA -- Ian Kullgren, Construction Labor News

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