Spokane transit union wins free speech right vs bosses

SPOKANE, Wash.—The union representing bus drivers and other transit workers in Spokane, Wash., has won a federal court fight over the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment rights to free speech, specifically in advertising, in federal court.

Federal District Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled on September 28 the Spokane Transit Authority violated the Constitution when it banned an August 2016 ad from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1015 informing transit workers, Uber and Lyft drivers and charter bus drivers of their right to organize.

The STA, acting through a private contractor, had banned ads dealing with “public issues,” from Spokane’s buses. The judge said the ad did not deal with a public issue. He also the transit agency’s shift of the ad from its “commercial and promotional advertising” category, where it would have been legal, violated the union’s rights, too.

“This is a big victory for STA transit workers and all workers’ free speech rights,” Local 1015 President Thomas Leighty told The Stand, the online newspaper of the state labor council. “STA was attempting to trample on our 1st Amendment right to let workers at Uber, Lyft, charter bus and school bus companies know they have a right to a voice that will protect their interests on the job. We plan to run this advertisement to let these transportation workers know ATU is here for them.”