Tennessee’s Mandatory Dues Deduction Law Struck Down

U.S. Dist. Judge Bernice Donald ruled May 11 that a Tennessee law requiring the mandatory deduction of dues for members of firefighters’ unions was ruled unconstitutional. Donald granted a motion for summary judgment by the City of Germantown, Tenn., in which the City argued mandatory deduction violated the equal protection provisions of the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.

In Sept. 1998, Int’l Ass’n of Firefighters Local 3858 requested the City recognize the union and deduct dues from firefighters’ wages.  The City’s refused to recognize the local or deduct dues.  The City also rejected several additional requests for recognition, including one from IAFF’s general counsel.  Local 3858 sued claiming that the City violated the mandatory deduction law.

One provision of the law exempted counties with certain population ranges. The counties were not specified, the legislative history of the law reflected that state legislators intended to exempt five of Tenn.’s 95 counties. The City argued that the exclusion of the counties was a classification with no rational basis and therefore violated the two constitutions.

Donald agreed: “the court agrees with [the City] that there is no rational basis for the classification. …Finding that the statute…violates the equal protection guarantees is not even a close call. The statute itself contains no language explaining any reason for the classification drawn by the legislature. Nor can the court conceive of any rational basis for requiring the municipalities in some counties to deduct firefighter union dues while exempting other counties.”

She added: the legislative history revealed that “the population bracket exclusions were made a part of the law simply because some legislators did not want the law to affect their home districts.”

IAFF’s lawyer Deborah Godwin and Tenn.’s  attorney general plan to file a motion with Donald asking her to reconsider or amend the judgment and to file an appeal. Godwin also threaten that IAFF will attempt to address the court’s decision “either legally or legislatively.” [BNA 5/25/00]