Government unions defying Janus ruling face uptick in legal pressure to comply
Legal pressure is ramping up on government unions to abide by a nearly year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME, making it unconstitutional for them to deduct dues from the paychecks of non-union employees.
The unions in 22 states where the forced payments were legal could owe workers millions in dues deductions made before the June 2018 Supreme Court ruling, with a favorable decision in a federal class action suit announced yesterday. Separate suits, including one filed this week, charge that some unions have essentially ignored the ruling by continuing to deduct the dues – in direction violation of the law.
The class action suit, Leitch et al., v. AFSCME, brought by nine government employees, cites a 2015 executive order signed by then Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, that required the dues, or fees, from non-union workers be placed in escrow as the law in Illinois allowing the deductions was “likely unconstitutional.”
The reimbursement period for the over 2,700 affected government workers in Illinois is limited to May 1, 2017 through June 28, 2018 by a statute of limitations. Other states, where workers would benefit as well from a favorable ruling, have lengthier statutes of limitations.
Representing the workers are the Chicago-based legal group, the Liberty Justice Center (LJC) and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the same team that pushed the Janus case to the Supreme Court. The court agreed with the arguments made by their lawyers that laws requiring payment of the fees violate the right to free speech and free association since the unions use the money collected to promote a political agenda, which includes the backing of candidates for political office. In many states, PACs controlled by government unions are the largest contributors to political campaigns.
“Refusing to return unlawfully seized union fees to these workers and in a growing number of cases across the country represents a blatant disregard for the law,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said in a statement. “AFSCME union officials in this case stand in utter defiance of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision. This case proves, once again, that union officials will do whatever it takes to keep the coffers brimming with forced dues and fees at the expense of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’ Keeping hundreds of millions of dollars taken from workers in violation of their First Amendment rights is outrageous.”
LJC filed another suit this week in federal court on behalf of a custodian, Susan Bennett, in the Moline-Coal Valley School District, whose dues continue to be deducted by AFSCME Local 672 months after the Janus ruling.
The union told Bennett that she must wait for a 15-day window starting in July 2019 to resign from the union and stop the dues deduction, according to an LJC statement.
“Instead of protecting workers’ rights, AFSCME is violating them,” Jeffrey Schwab, senior attorney at LJC, said in the statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that government employees ‘must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them.’ Ms. Bennett does not give her permission of union dues and contributions to be deducted. By refusing to end her union deductions, the Moline-Coal Valley School District is placing the interests of the union ahead of school workers.”
In November, LJC filed a similar case for a diesel mechanic in a suburban Chicago school district, and has filed cases in other states where unions continue to defy the Janus ruling.