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Top court ruling upholds free speech, union lawyer says



Published: Wed, October 23, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

Unionized Ohio public employees now can exercise free speech on the same basis as everyone else, union lawyer says.

Union lawyer says

top court ruling upholds free speech

COLUMBUS

The Ohio Supreme Court delivered a major victory for labor unions when it ruled in a Mahoning County case.

The court ruled that a state law requiring a union to give a public employer and the State Employment Relations Board 10 days advance notice of strike picketing does not apply to informational picketing.

The case arose from a unanimous June 2012 decision by a three-judge panel of the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals that a 10-day notice requirement for informational picketing violates free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The case stems from peaceful informational picketing without 10 days’ advance notice by the Mahoning Education Association of Developmental Disabilities outside a Nov. 5, 2007, Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities meeting in Austintown while the union and the board negotiated a new contract.

MEADD represents teaching and nonteaching employees of the board.

“This is a very significant decision,” Ira Mirkin, a Youngstown lawyer who represents MEADD, said of Wednesday’s ruling. Unionized Ohio public employees can now “exercise their right to free speech on the same basis as anyone else who wants to speak out,” he added.


Comments

1questionreality(248 comments)posted 10 months, 4 weeks ago

The sheer number of public employees shows the importance of ensuring that First Amendment rights are a living reality rather than abstract theory for government workers. The Supreme Court long ago dismissed the notion that employees forfeit their constitutional protections when they enter the public workplace.

All employers, including public ones, wield great power over their employees. If an employee fears being disciplined for speaking out on matters of public concern, he or she may well keep quiet. Yet the fundamental purpose of the First Amendment is to ensure that “debate on public issues ... be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.”102

As Justice Brennan once stated: “The constitutionally protected right to speak out on governmental affairs would be meaningless if it did not extend to statements expressing criticism of governmental officials.”103

Public employees can contribute greatly to that civic debate. They are uniquely situated to speak out on important issues of which the average citizen is unaware. When public employees speak as citizens rather than as disgruntled workers, courts must respect their free-speech interests.

Justice O’Connor recognized this point when she wrote that “government employees are often in the best position to know what ails the agencies for which they work; public debate may gain much from their informed opinions.”104

While public employers must be able to ensure a productive and efficient workplace, as government entities they also are duty-bound to respect the Bill of Rights.

From Balancing Act: Public Employees and Free Speech

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