Jul 15 5:51 PM

Can Hobby Lobby be used to bust unions?

A little-known religious exemption to United States labor law may have just become extremely important, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby.

By declaring that “closely held” corporations may hold religious beliefs, the court may have provided businesses with a new tool for crushing workplace unionization drives. In addition to declaring themselves exempt from contraception mandates and non-discrimination laws, religious employers may soon be able to argue for an exemption from collective bargaining laws.

The all-too-plausible logic works this way: Religious primary and secondary schools are already exempt from National Labor Relations Board oversight thanks to a 1979 Supreme Court decision in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. Thanks to that ruling, the school was not obligated to recognize an employee union, as prescribed by NLRB enforcement, because the process presented “a significant risk of infringement of Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.”

Several cases now moving through the system seek to expand that interpretation. In the case of Perelman Jewish Day School, that Philadelphia-based K-though-5 school is arguing it no longer has to recognize a union that had represented its teachers since 1976 (once a blatant violation of the National Labor Relations Act) under the guidance offered by the High Court in Catholic Bishop.

The Bible wonders where next it might be used.
Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Adjunct professors at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University want to hold a union election, but the school says no, claiming a religious exemption. Duquesne, mind you, is a private university, not a religious grade school like Catholic Bishop or Perelman.

In a similar case, adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., want to be represented by the SEIU. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, recently seen kicking hard at organized labor in the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision, says allowing for collective bargaining would “contradict the school’s religious mission,” hypothesizing that labor negotiations might expand the university’s health plan to include access to abortion.

If these cases are allowed to lengthen the reach of Catholic Bishop to institutions of higher learning, and Hobby Lobby’s expansion of religious exemptions under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is thrown into the mix, it is not an incredible leap to see this court, so primed to make incredible leaps on behalf of the conservative majority’s goals, take up the case of a private corporation’s desire to avoid collective bargaining or NLRB oversight on the grounds that it runs counter to some owner’s deeply held religious beliefs.

Click through to Ned’s piece for more terrifying analysis. 

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