7 Dec 2018

Michigan Right to Work Enforcement: 6 Years and More Than 100 Cases Later

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2018 edition.

Foundation legal action still critical to enforcing Wolverine State Right to Work Laws

Susan Junak

Foundation staff attorneys represent a number of Michigan workers, including public school teacher Susan Junak, defending their rights under the state’s Right to Work laws.

MICHIGAN – Since the 2012 passage of Right to Work legislation in the Wolverine State, Foundation staff attorneys have provided free legal assistance to Michigan workers in more than a hundred cases. With 41 ongoing cases and another 61 closed as of the publication of this article, Michigan cases continue to make up a disproportionate amount of the Foundation’s caseload of approximately 220-230 active cases at any given time. Developments in Foundation legal cases in recent months show that despite dozens of victories for workers, Michigan union bosses continue to attempt to force workers to pay dues despite the Right to Work laws.

Michigan Workers Face Illegal Forced-Dues Demands

After Michigan’s Right to Work Law covering government employees went into effect, school district employees Ryan Woodward and Susan Junak each attempted to exercise their rights under the law by submitting union membership resignations and dues check-off authorization revocations to the Michigan Education Association (MEA) union, only to have their dues revocations ignored. Indeed, MEA officials threatened to collect the dues with lawsuits.

With free legal representation from Foundation staff attorneys, Woodward and Junak won settlements from the MEA. Both settlements require the MEA to end attempts to collect the dues from the two workers. In addition, the union is required to take steps to repair the workers’ credit, if it had been damaged by the union bosses’ attempts to collect the supposedly-owed dues via collection agencies.

Another Foundation Right to Work enforcement victory was won for plaintiff Gordon Alger against Teamsters Local 214. Alger, a building maintenance worker, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) when the Teamsters union continued to deduct dues from his paycheck after he revoked his deduction authorization. Rather than be prosecuted, Teamsters officials agreed to refund about $300 that was taken from Mr. Alger in violation of his rights under Michigan’s Right to Work protections.

EMTs File Class Action Lawsuit Against United Auto Workers Union

Despite Michigan union bosses repeatedly being caught trying to illegally extort forced dues from workers, one recently filed case further shows that union officials in the state continue to violate the rights of independent-minded Michigan employees.

On September 6, two EMTs in Flint filed a class action lawsuit in Michigan state court against United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 708 and their employer to enforce their rights under the state Right to Work law making union membership and dues payments strictly voluntary. Foundation staff attorneys helped the workers file the lawsuit, which seeks refunds of over $25,000 in illegally seized union dues and fees.

The lawsuit asks for injunctive relief and the return of three years of dues and fees that were collected by UAW officials in violation of Michigan’s private sector Right to Work Law. In addition to the illegal forced dues, the workers were required to be dues-paying members of the UAW – in violation of the law.

Pharmacy Worker Files Charges After Being Forced by the UFCW to Pay Dues

UAW bosses weren’t the only Michigan labor officials on the receiving end of Foundation litigation brought in September for a worker seeking to exercise his or her rights under the state’s Right to Work law.

Days after the lawsuit against the UAW was filed, Rite Aid employee Kolby Klopfenstein-Snyder hit United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 951 with a federal unfair labor practice charge for illegal dues seizures. Klopfenstein-Snyder exercised her rights under Michigan’s Right to Work Law by resigning her union membership only to have union officials refuse to stop seizing union dues.

Her charge, filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), says UFCW officials are violating her rights by continuing to take her dues, even though the union’s own dues deduction card does not authorize the taking of dues from non-members.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, UFCW Local 951 officials are no strangers to violating workers’ freedom of choice protected under the Right to Work law. In 2015, Foundation staff attorneys assisted Laura Fries after she was threatened with the loss of her job by UFCW officials. When she brought the case before the NLRB, which issued a complaint against the union, UFCW officials quickly backed down and reached a settlement.

“Unfortunately for the workers Big Labor claims to represent, Michigan union bosses show no signs of voluntarily complying with Michigan’s popular Right to Work Laws and seeking to earn workers’ support voluntarily,” said Ray LaJeunesse, vice president and legal director of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “As demonstrated by the more than 100 cases filed in Michigan since Right to Work was enacted there, the Foundation’s legal aid program remains vital to protect workers from being forced to fund a union they oppose.”

5 Dec 2018

Foundation Attorneys Win Janus Refunds for Minnesota Court Employees

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2018 edition.

Teamsters officials forced to return every dollar of fees seized, plus interest

Elizabeth Zeien and Carrie Keller

Elizabeth Zeien (left) and Carrie Keller were forced into union ranks and compelled to pay union fees. Thanks to Janus, the two Minnesota state workers have won refunds of their hard-earned money.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Two more workers have received refunds of unconstitutionally seized union fees under the Janus precedent. After being forced into union ranks and required to support a union they oppose, Carrie Keller and Elizabeth Zeien have won a settlement against Teamsters union officials for violating their First Amendment rights.

The refund is a result of the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision, which held that no public sector worker can be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Now that union officials have settled their lawsuit, Keller and Zeien are the second and third public sector employees to win refunds in lawsuits under the new Janus precedent of unconstitutionally seized union fees.

Court Workers Forced to Fund Union Against Interests

Neither Keller nor Zeien, employees of the State of Minnesota Court System, was a union member when they started working at the court. They both negotiated their own terms and conditions of employment and salaries free from union interference.

In 2015, Teamsters Local 320 union officials started proceedings to force a number of state employees who were not in monopoly bargaining units into union ranks, in which they could be required to pay union dues and fees.

In March 2017, Minnesota state officials gave in to the Teamsters’ demands and added a number of employees, including Keller and Zeien, to a Teamsters-controlled bargaining unit. The workers were never given a vote on whether they wanted to be part of the union bargaining unit.

The pay scales and benefits Keller and Zeien had as unrepresented employees – and were forced to give up – equaled or exceeded what they now received under the union-mandated contract. To add insult to injury, the two workers were forced to pay compulsory union fees for this unwanted “representation.”

To challenge the forced unionization scheme, the two workers came to Foundation staff attorneys for free legal aid in filing a lawsuit.

Foundation Won First Janus Refund for Oregon Worker

In the Foundation-won Janus ruling, issued on the last day of its term on June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to force government employees to pay any union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The Court also clarified that no union dues or fees can be taken from workers without their affirmative consent and knowing waiver of their First Amendment right not to financially support a labor union.

Deciding to settle the lawsuit after the Janus decision, Teamsters union officials were obligated to refund Keller and Zeien the entirety of the unconstitutionally seized union dues plus interest. No further union dues or fees will be collected from the workers’ wages unless either affirmatively chooses to become a union member and authorizes deductions.

Keller and Zeien join Debora Nearman as the first three government employees who, with free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys, have received their hard-earned money back under Janus. In July, SEIU officials settled with Nearman to return nearly $3,000 in forced-fees refunds.

“These workers are among the first of millions of government employees to finally receive justice for the violation of their rights,” said National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens. “The Foundation will continue to hold union officials accountable when they attempt to force workers into unconstitutional forced-fees schemes.”

26 Nov 2018

Lawsuits Seek Over $170 Million in Forced-Fees Refunds Under Janus Precedent

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2018 edition.

Foundation fights to enforce SCOTUS victory and return illegally seized union fees to employee victims

Map of Janus enforcement cases and Right to Work states

Foundation staff attorneys are already litigating more than a dozen cases for public sector employees previously forced to pay union fees in violation of their First Amendment rights, and receive more requests daily.

SALEM, OR – After years of being forced to financially support a union, public sector workers across the country are finally free from compulsory union fees as a result of the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision. Enforcing the monumental victory, Foundation staff attorneys are providing free legal aid to thousands of government employees to reclaim their hard-earned money through class action lawsuits.

In Janus, briefed and argued by Foundation staff attorneys, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that charging any government employee union fees as a condition of employment is a violation of the First Amendment. Unions may collect fees when an employee gives their clear and affirmative consent.

Government employees are now looking to hold union officials accountable for money unconstitutionally seized before the Janus decision. Foundation staff attorneys have filed several class action lawsuits for workers.

Oregon Workers Seek $30 Million in Refunds

Together, the suits seek more than $170 million to be reclaimed from union officials’ coffers and returned to the individuals who earned it in the first place. That amount will continue to grow as Foundation staff attorneys file more class action lawsuits to seek forced fees refunds for more government employees.

In one such lawsuit, potentially tens of millions of dollars are at stake for a class of thousands of Oregon state workers.

In September, a group of public employees filed a lawsuit against the three largest Oregon public sector unions with a class action complaint to enforce the Janus precedent. Foundation staff attorneys represent the group as they seek refunds of forced fees from Oregon affiliates of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as the Oregon-based Association of Engineering Employees (AEE).

The lawsuit seeks the return of affected workers’ money taken by the unions over the last six years, as allowed by the applicable statute of limitations, which is estimated by legal experts to total 30 million dollars or more. The Oregon employees’ lawsuit is just one of several across the country.

Connecticut Civil Servants File Lawsuit to Reclaim Forced Fees

Also in September, Kiernan Wholean and James Grillo, workers at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), filed a complaint against the Connecticut State Employee Association (SEIU Local 2001) and the Secretary of Office of Policy Management, the Undersecretary of Labor Relations, and the Commissioner of DEEP of Connecticut.

Wholean and Grillo are not members of SEIU Local 2001 and had not consented to the deduction of forced union fees from their wages. Before Janus, they and other non-member employees had been forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

Connecticut stopped deducting union fees from the workers’ wages following a letter to the State Comptroller from the National Right to Work Foundation, which threatened legal action for any dues deductions from non-members that continued after Janus. However, DEEP still maintains a monopoly bargaining agreement with SEIU Local 2001 officials that requires non-members to pay union fees to get or keep jobs.

The complaint, filed at the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut with free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys, asks that the court certify a class to include all individuals who during the statutory limitations period were forced to pay union fees to SEIU Local 2001 without their affirmative consent, and to order the union to return the unconstitutionally seized fees to the class. The class potentially includes hundreds of workers.

California State Workers Seek Millions in Refunds from SEIU Officials

Adding to the legal attack on union officials’ ill-gotten gains, a California state employee filed a lawsuit to enforce the Janus victory and return unconstitutionally forced fees to potentially 5,000 workers.

William Hough has worked at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) since 2005. He in no way wished to support Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 and exercised his right to refrain from union membership. However, he and other non-member employees were still forced by state law to pay union fees to keep their jobs.

After the Janus decision, Hough seeks the return of the money union officials seized from him and other employees. With free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys, he filed his class action lawsuit against the VTA, SEIU Local 521, and the Attorney General and Governor of California.

Hough’s lawsuit asks for the class to include all affected individuals who, at any time within the applicable limitations period, were forced to pay fees to SEIU Local 521 without their consent. With a potential class of 5,000 workers, those union fees may total five million dollars.

The lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of California’s law that, despite Janus, still authorizes Local 521 and its affiliates to seize union dues from non-members without their consent. Hough asks the court to declare such California laws a violation of the First Amendment.

In addition to the new cases reported in this article, Foundation staff attorneys continue to pursue other lawsuits to recoup forced fees for workers, as reinforced by the Janus precedent. In Hamidi v. SEIU, a class of 30,000 California state workers seek more than $100 million in unconstitutionally seized forced union fees. In Riffey v. Rauner, a group of Illinois home care providers asks for the return of $32 million in union fees seized through another coercive scheme.

“While hundreds of thousands or more non-member government employees are no longer having forced fees deducted from their paychecks, that doesn’t address the decades of constitutional violations perpetrated by union officials against workers,” said National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens. “Justice demands that the money union bosses illegally seized be returned to the victims of such schemes.”

6 Apr 2018

Foundation Attorney Argues Forced Union Fees Case at U.S. Supreme Court

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, March/April 2018 edition.

June decision expected in First Amendment challenge to mandatory dues for government workers

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, February 26, veteran National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorney William Messenger argued the blockbuster Janus v. AFSCME case before the United States Supreme Court. Messenger, representing Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services employee Mark Janus, asked the High Court to recognize that the First Amendment protects public workers from being required to make payments to union officials as a condition of working for their own government.

Mr. Janus is an Illinois child support specialist who filed the challenge after being required to pay union fees to AFSCME union officials even though he opposes many of the positions union officials nadvocate using his money. Janus feels he would be better off without the union’s so-called representation and that compelled speech through forced union dues violates his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association.

In the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, a divided High Court ruled that public employees could not be required to subsidize many political and ideological union activities. However the Court left in place forced fees used to subsidize union monopoly bargaining with the government. In a series of Foundation-litigated cases over the last five years, the Supreme Court has questioned the theory underpinning Abood.

‘The Biggest Labor Case of the Century’

In the National Right to Work Foundation-won Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014) cases, the Supreme Court made clear that mandatory union payments invoke the highest level of First Amendment protection. Now staff attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation, who represent Janus along with attorneys from the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, have asked the Supreme Court to apply the First Amendment precedent of heightened scrutiny to all mandatory union payments required of government employees.

Many Supreme Court observers consider Janus v. AFSCME to be one of the biggest, if not the most important case of the term, especially considering that more than 5 million public school teachers, firefighters, police officers and other government employees are currently forced to pay money to union officials. One Washington Post headline about the case declared: “The Supreme Court is About to Hear the Biggest Labor Case of the Century.”

“Mandatory union fees are the most widespread regime of compelled speech in the nation. It is long past time that public employees’ First Amendment rights be protected from being forced to subsidize union officials’ speech,” said Foundation Vice President and Legal Director Ray LaJeunesse, Jr.

“We are hopeful that by the end of the Supreme Court’s term it will issue a decision ensuring that union payments for public employees like Mr. Janus are strictly voluntary, at which point the challenge will be enforcing those protections for millions of government workers,” LaJeunesse added.

10 Jan 2018

Foundation Warns Workers of Union Boss Tricks Ahead of Janus Ruling

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2017 edition. To sign up for a free copy of the newsletter via mail please see the form at the bottom of the page.

Special legal notice to public employees warns against signing away rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With forced dues requirements for over five million public sector employees at stake in the Foundation’s Janus v. AFSCME case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, union bosses coast-to-coast are already scrambling to limit workers ability to cut off dues payments if the court rules that mandatory union payments violate the First Amendment.

Following the Supreme Court’s announcement in late September that it was taking the Janus case, there were reports that Big Labor was ramping up tactics to block the workers from escaping forced dues. In response, Foundation staff attorneys crafted a special legal notice to public employees, warning them against signing any union authorization cards that might later be cited to limit their right to stop paying dues.

“Unfortunately, there is a long history of union officials refusing to accept limits on their forced- dues powers, and with 5.2 million government workers forced to pay billions each year to union bosses, it is no surprise that union bosses are pulling out all the stops to attempt to block them from using the protections that a Foundation win in the Janus case would bring,” said Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation.

“Although the scale may be unprecedented given the stakes of this Supreme Court case, unfortunately these tactics are nothing new,” Semmens continued. “Invariably, after Foundation-won legal precedents or enactment of new state Right to Work laws, union officials move to block the very workers they claim to represent from exercising their rights.”

Reports: Unions Pressing Workers To Sign Away Their Rights

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s special legal notice warns employees of the tactics teacher union bosses have already begun using:

For instance, according to The Wall Street Journal, Education Minnesota, an affiliate of the National Education Association, is having teachers sign pre-filled “membership renewal” cards which also authorize their employer to deduct union dues or fees from their paychecks.

This language may seem innocuous, but it is craftily designed to lock employees into paying dues even if they wish to cease paying. The Wall Street Journal also notes: “If public sector unions are putting this ‘renewal’ strategy in place in Minnesota, it’s likely that they’re making similar plans elsewhere.”

Although Foundation staff attorneys question the legality of such cards, the special legal notice reminds workers that signing such a card could limit their legal options later. This is compounded by the fact that in many documented instances, union organizers solicit signatures under misleading or false pretenses.

Public sector employees are taking notice of such schemes and are already calling the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation to report this behavior by union officials and seek advice in protecting their rights. As always, Foundation staff attorneys are prepared to take legal action for workers who are illegally required to pay forced dues.

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9 Jan 2018

Union Bosses Admit Forced Dues Fuel Big Labor’s Political Clout

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2017 edition. To sign up for a free copy of the newsletter via mail please see the form at the bottom of the page.

Union officials’ public statements about forced dues belie their legal arguments

WASHNGTON, D.C. – Since the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood decision, union dues for public employees have ostensibly been divided between political and ideological activities that workers could not be forced to subsidize and union activities regarding monopoly bargaining which state workers like Janus v. AFSCME plaintiff Mark Janus could be required to fund.

Beginning with the National Right to Work Foundation’s 2012 Knox v. SEIU Supreme Court case, the High Court has begun to question whether that supposed line sufficiently protects the First Amendment rights of workers like Mr. Janus who do not wish to join or associate with a union, especially because all public sector union activities are directed at the government, making them inherently political. Nevertheless union lawyers continue to argue, and are expected to argue again to the Supreme Court in Janus, that the so-called “agency fees” which nonmembers are required to pay are completely unrelated to union political spending and lobbying.

However, in public statements about the impact of losing the power to compel payment from nonmembers, union officials and their allies repeatedly admit that their forced-dues powers are crucial to Big Labor’s vast political influence.

Only 35% of Workers Would Definitely Pay Dues Voluntarily

One of the starkest admissions about how dependent union bosses are on forced dues came from an internal report commissioned by AFSCME, the union in the Janus case. According to a Bloomberg News report, the union study was commissioned to look at the potential impact of a Supreme Court ruling against forced fees. It concluded that union officials could only count on payments from “roughly 35%” of workers if dues were voluntary.

Of the remaining 65 percent, union officials said a quarter would likely opt out while the rest were “on the fence.” A separate admission by AFSCME official and former Obama Administration appointee Naomi Walker demonstrates the extent to which forced dues fuel partisan union spending on politics.

Writing about Janus for a union-funded publication, Walker predicted that the “progressive infrastructure in this country, from think tanks to advocacy organizations—which depends on the resources and engagement of workers and their unions—will crumble,” if the Supreme Court strikes down mandatory union fees. Meanwhile, the SEIU says it has planned for a 30% budget reduction in preparation for the loss of forced-dues powers over public employees.
Behind closed doors the recipients of Big Labor’s political largess also admit that union political expenditures would be significantly impacted by a ruling striking down forced dues. A leaked copy of remarks by the head of the left-wing Democracy Alliance noted that the groups “dodged a bullet” when Scalia’s death left the High Court split 4-4 with forced dues intact.

Democracy Alliance has directed around $500 million in political spending in recent election cycles. It counts national unions as a significant portion of its roughly 100 membership groups, which include AFSCME, SEIU and the two national teacher unions. In the leaked speech, Democracy Alliance President Gara LaMarche described the groups as “a key anchor of funding for progressive campaigns and causes.” According to a report in the Washington Free Beacon, he warned that Big Labor’s political allies would “need to find new ways to raise money to make up for the disastrous financial shortfall that could follow policies that prevent forced unionization.

According to public disclosure reports filed by union officials, Big Labor political spending during the 2016 election cycle topped $1.7 billion. Of that figure, over $1.3 billion came from union general treasury funds, funded largely by workers who would lose their jobs if they refused to pay union dues or fees.

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8 Jan 2018

Featured Foundation Commentary: This Is Why All Union Dues Should Be Voluntary

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2017 edition. . To sign up for a free copy of the newsletter via mail please see the form at the bottom of the page.

By Mark Mix

It’s been a landmark year in the debate over forced union dues. Kentucky and Missouri became the 27th and 28th states, respectively, to pass Right to Work laws to ensure that financial support of a union is completely voluntary. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court could announce in a few weeks that it will hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case seeking to strike down mandatory union payments as a violation of First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The basic case for Right to Work is simple: Forcing workers to pay money to a union they don’t support is wrong. This is why polling consistently shows that Americans overwhelmingly support Right to Work, including strong majorities of independent, Republican and Democratic voters.

There are other reasons to support Right to Work, too. Workplace freedom is an economic engine, with private-sector job creation rates in Right to Work states double those in forced-unionism states between 2006 and 2016.

Plus, Right to Work laws make union officials more accountable to rank-and-file members. Without Right to Work, employees must pay up or be fired. With voluntary dues, workers can withhold financial support from a union that is corrupt, ineffective or putting its institutional interests ahead of what is best for workers. Right to Work is a defender of workers’ rights — union members and nonunion alike.

Don’t take my word for it. Among proponents of this view was Samuel Gompers, who founded the American Federation of Labor in 1886 and served as the longest-tenured president of the group that would later become the AFL-CIO. As president of the AFL in 1916, Gompers wrote, “The workers of America adhere to voluntary institutions in preference to compulsory systems which are held to be not only impractical but a menace to their rights, welfare and their liberty.”

Gompers understood that true strength came from voluntary membership, and that by using government-granted powers to force workers to associate with and fund unions — such as laws that prohibit employees from choosing their own workplace representatives — organized labor undermines its legitimacy to speak on behalf of workers.

Today, this is compounded by the fact that fewer than 6 percent of unionized workers currently under monopoly union contracts have even had the opportunity to vote for or against union representation. That’s how entrenched forced unionization is in the American labor force.

In the years since Gompers wrote against “compulsory systems,” Big Labor has completely tossed out any pretense of his “voluntary unionism” that attracts workers by showing them the potential benefits of unionization.

Instead, Big Labor has wholeheartedly embraced “compulsory unionism,” which relies on special legal privileges from government to corral workers into a union with many having no say in the matter at all.

But with Right to Work states growing — six states have passed Right to Work in the past five years — and the potential Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME looming that could give every government employee Right to Work protections, union officials may be forced to confront a future without the power to force workers to pony up.

At a recent Massachusetts AFL-CIO conference named after Gompers, union officials even organized a special panel titled “How to Survive Right To Work.”

Without government-granted power to compel support, union officials would need to listen to their members and prove to them that paying union dues is worth it.

Union officials may find that level of accountability scary, but it’s exactly how Gompers would have wanted it.

This op-ed originally appeared in the September 3, 2017 New York Post.

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4 Jan 2018

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Foundation Case to End Public Sector Forced Dues

The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2017 edition. To sign up for a free copy of the newsletter via mail please see the form at the bottom of the page.

First Amendment lawsuit challenging mandatory union payments could free over 5 million public employees

WASHINGTON, DC – On September 28, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, which challenges mandatory union fees for public employees as a violation of the First Amendment. Mark Janus is a civil servant child support specialist from Illinois who turned to attorneys from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center for free legal aid when he felt that his rights were violated by forced union fees.
Janus’ attorneys will argue that forcing employees to pay money to union officials as a condition of government employment violates the First Amendment. If the High Court agrees, the ruling would create a precedent protecting every public employee from being forced to subsidize union activities.

Illinois Worker’s Lawsuit Reaches High Court

The Janus case began in February 2015, when newly-elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from requiring nonmember state employees to pay union fees, based on a 2014 Right to Work Foundation U.S. Supreme Court victory in another Illinois case. Rauner also filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, asking for a declaratory judgment that the forced fee provisions violate the First Amendment and that his executive order was valid.

In March 2015, staff attorneys from the Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center filed a motion for Mark Janus to intervene in the case. Janus’s complaint requested not only a declaratory judgment but also an injunction and damages from the unions for the compelled fees. Ultimately, the court granted Janus’ motion to intervene which allowed the suit to continue to move forward even after the court ruled that Governor Rauner lacked the proper standing to pursue the lawsuit.

After the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 following Justice Scalia’s death in a case which raised the same constitutional issue, Janus became the lead case challenging forced dues as a violation of the First Amendment.

Citing Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which permitted public sector unions to require fees to subsidize monopoly bargaining, both the district court and later the Seventh Circuit Court of appeals ruled against Mr. Janus as expected. That allowed Foundation staff attorneys to file a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. In September the Supreme Court announced it would hear Janus, making it the 18th Supreme Court case litigated by Foundation attorneys.

Janus follows a series of decisions that suggest a willingness by the Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutionality of forced union fees. In 1977, the High Court held in Abood that, although union officials could not constitutionally spend objectors’ funds for some political and ideological activities, unions could require fees to subsidize monopoly bargaining.

Recent Foundation Supreme Court Victories Set Stage for Landmark Showdown

However, in 2012, the Supreme Court began to question Abood’s underpinnings. In Knox v. SEIU, brought to it by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, the Court held that union officials must obtain affirmative consent from workers before using workers’ forced union fees for special assessments or dues increases.

In the opinion Justice Samuel Alito authored, the door was left open to challenge all forced union fees as a violation of the First Amendment. Alito wrote, “By allowing unions to collect any fees from nonmembers and by permitting unions to use opt-out rather than opt-in schemes when annual dues are billed, our cases have substantially impinged upon the First Amendment rights of nonmembers.”

Two years later, the Foundation assisted a group of Illinois home care providers, including Pam Harris, a mother taking care of her disabled son, in case challenging a state scheme authorizing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officials to require providers like Harris to pay union dues or fees. National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys took the case to the Supreme Court, which held that the forced dues requirement violated the First Amendment.

‘I was never given a choice’

In its Harris ruling, the Court continued to criticize the reasoning of Abood and refused to extend Abood to the “new situation” before it. The decision held Illinois’ provider forced dues scheme unconstitutional and cracked the door even further open for the Court to revisit Abood and the constitutionality of forced union fees, which it is now doing in Janus.

For Mark Janus, the case is about reclaiming his voice and his First Amendment rights stripped away by forced union fees. By standing up for his rights, his case could establish a precedent that would protect over 20 million teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees in America.

“The union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight,” Janus wrote in an op-ed featured in the Chicago Tribune. “But a piece of my paycheck every week still goes to the union.”
“I went into this line of work because I care about kids. But just because I care about kids doesn’t mean I also want to support a government union,” he continued. “Unfortunately, I have no choice. To keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, a public employee union that claims to ‘represent’ me.”

“The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of association. I don’t want to be associated with a union that claims to represent my interests and me when it really doesn’t.”

Janus stressed that he just wants all Americans to have the opportunity to exercise that freedom of association whether they want to join a union or not.

“I’m definitely not anti-union. Unions have their place and many people like them. … I was never given a choice,” he told the Washington Free Beacon. “I really didn’t see that I was getting any benefit [from the union]. I just don’t think I should be forced to pay a group for an association I don’t agree with—that goes to the First Amendment.”

“Somebody’s got to do something,” Janus said in the interview. “I figure it’ll be a wake-up call to the union that they would have to provide a better benefit [to workers].”

“[The case] has national implications, but I don’t look at that way, I just look it as an average guy standing up for his own rights and free speech. I don’t look at is if I’m anybody special or anybody extraordinary,” the civil servant child worker said.

Foundation Attorney to Argue Forced Dues Showdown

As this issue goes to print a date has not yet been set for oral arguments, although the Supreme Court has notified Janus’ Foundation-provided staff attorneys to expect arguments in January. Because Janus is considered one of the highest-profile cases the High Court has agreed to hear, Supreme Court experts expect a ruling would come at the very end of the 2017-2018 term in June.

Veteran Foundation staff attorney William Messenger will argue the case before the nine Justices, in what will be his third oral argument before the Supreme Court. In 2014, Messenger was lead attorney in the Foundation’s Harris victory, which successfully struck down forced dues for homecare providers as a violation of their First Amendment rights.

As National Right to Work Foundation president Mark Mix told the New York Times when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case: “We are now one step closer to freeing over five million public sector teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other employees from the injustice of being forced to subsidize a union as a condition of working for their own government.”

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11 Aug 2017

Case to End Public Sector Forced Dues Heads to U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, D.C. – By this time next year every government worker in America could be free from forced union dues if a National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation lawsuit for an Illinois state employee is successful.

Mark Janus, a state-employed child support specialist, seeks a ruling that forcing government employees to pay money to union officials to keep their jobs violates the First Amendment.

In June, staff attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation and Liberty Justice Center filed a writ of certiorari petition with the United States Supreme Court, asking the Court to hear Janus v. AFSCME. If the Court agrees in September to take the case, a ruling would be likely by June 2018.

“Requiring public servants to subsidize union officials’ speech is incompatible with the First Amendment. This petition asks the Supreme Court to take up this case and revisit a nearly half-century-old mistake that led to an anomaly in First Amendment jurisprudence,” National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix commented.

The Janus v. AFSCME case stems from Obama Labor Board Majority an executive order issued by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on February 9, 2015. It prohibited state agencies from requiring nonmember state employees to pay union fees, and directed that such the resolution of litigation. On the same day, Rauner filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois asking for a declaratory judgment that the forced fee provisions violate the First Amendment and that his executive order was valid.

In March 2015, staff attorneys from the Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center moved for Mark Janus to intervene in the case. Janus’ complaint requested not only a declaratory judgment but also an injunction and damages from the unions for the compelled fees. The court granted Janus’ motion to intervene which allowed the suit to continue to move forward even after the court ruled that Governor Rauner lacked the standing to pursue the lawsuit.

On July 2, 2015, the Illinois Attorney General asked the district court to stay the case pending the Supreme Court’s decision in a case with similar constitutional issues at stake, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

The Supreme Court ultimately deadlocked 4-4 on Friedrichs, following Justice Scalia’s death, allowing the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education precedent to stand for the time being. In Abood, the Court held that, although union officials could not constitutionally spend objectors’ funds for some political and ideological activities, unions could require fees to subsidize collective bargaining and contract administration with government employers.

Soon after the deadlock in Friedrichs, a district court judge dismissed Janus, allowing the case to be appealed to the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, citing Abood, thus allowing Janus to be petitioned to the Supreme Court.

Janus follows a series of Foundation-won Supreme Court decisions that demonstrate a willingness by the Supreme Court to reconsider Abood and apply strict scrutiny to the constitutionality of forced union fees.

In Knox v. SEIU, brought by Foundation staff attorneys for California employees, the Supreme Court began to question Abood’s underpinnings. The Court in 2012 held in Knox that union officials must obtain affirmative consent from workers before using workers’ forced union fees for special assessments or dues increases that include union politicking.

The opinion Justice Samuel Alito authored left the door open to challenge all forced union fees as a violation of the First Amendment. Alito wrote that previous Supreme Court rulings allowing forced fees “have substantially impinged upon the First Amendment rights of nonmembers.”

The Foundation also assisted a group of Illinois home care providers in challenging a state scheme authorizing Service Employees International Union officials to require the providers to pay union dues or fees. Foundation attorneys took the case, Harris v. Quinn, to the Supreme Court, which held in 2014 that the forced-dues requirement violated the First Amendment.

In the Court’s opinion in Harris, Justice Alito expanded his criticism of forced union fees writing, “Except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”

Janus v. AFSCME is on track for the Supreme Court to decide whether to hear it at its conference before the next term begins in the fall. If four justices agree, the Court could announce soon after its September 25 conference whether it will hear the case.

Foundation staff attorneys also filed another federal lawsuit seeking to end union bosses’ forced-dues powers to demand union fees as a condition of employment. The case, Keller v. Shorba, was filed for two Minnesota state employees. These employees, Carrie Keller and Elizabeth Zeien, are employed by the State of Minnesota Court System. When they started working for the State, neither was a union member, and they both negotiated their own terms and conditions of employment and salaries, free from union interference.

In 2015, union officials started proceedings to force state employees who were not in monopoly bargaining units into union ranks, where they could be required to pay union dues and fees. In March 2017, Minnesota state officials bowed to the Teamsters’ demands and added a number of employees, including Keller and Zeien, to a Teamsters-controlled bargaining unit without the employees’ permission or desire. Keller, Zeien, and the other employees were never given a vote on whether they should be part of the union bargaining unit, and they objected to the new scheme.

Before being forced under the union contract, Keller and Zeien had negotiated pay scales and benefits for themselves that equaled or exceeded what they are forced to accept under the union-mandated
contract. The lower compensation under the union contract and the imposition of mandatory union fees led Keller and Zeien to approach the Foundation for assistance in challenging the forced unionization scheme.

“These two workers were happily working and successfully representing themselves in dealing with their employer until Teamsters officials sought to bolster their forced-dues ranks even though it meant a step back in Keller and Zeien’s working conditions,” said Ray LaJeunesse, Vice President and Legal Director of the National Right to Work Foundation. “This case is a prime example of why it is wrong to force employees to pay money to a union for representation they don’t want, never asked for, and frequently would be better off without.”

Keller and Zeien’s case is one of six ongoing challenges, in addition to Janus, brought by Foundation staff attorneys across the country challenging the constitutionality of forced union fees.

11 Jul 2017

Care Providers Ask High Court to Hear Forced ‘Representation’ Challenge

WASHINGTON, D.C – In early June, staff attorneys for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and Liberty Justice Center petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Hill v. SEIU. The case seeks to strike down a compulsory unionism scheme that grants Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officials exclusive monopoly “bargaining” powers with Illinois state government for thousands of Illinois caregivers – including many who never joined the union and oppose the union’s so-called ‘representation.’

In the petition to the Court for six Illinois personal-care and childcare providers, Foundation staff attorneys contend that the state law infringes on the providers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to associate with a union they do not wish to join or support. Granting the union exclusive power to deal with the State of Illinois over caregiving practices violates the caregivers’ right to choose with whom they associate to petition their own government.

The caregivers’ petition to the Supreme Court in Hill follows the National Right to Work Foundation’s landmark 2014 Supreme Court victory in Harris v. Quinn, which was also filed for several homebased Illinois care providers. That decision prohibited union officials from collecting mandatory dues or fees from home-based caregivers.

The Hill petition argues that, although the Harris case dealt with compelled fees, because the Court ruled that the state’s justification for mandatory fees was insufficient under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court should strike down the compelled association on the same grounds.

The petition asks the Court to take the case so that it can apply the same standard to the First Amendment infringements created when state law forces home care providers to accept a government- appointed monopoly union agent against their will. Foundation staff attorneys have brought similar challenges on behalf of home and childcare providers in Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington State.

“It is outrageous that across the country state laws force home and childcare providers to accept unwanted ‘representation’ from a union they have no interest in joining or supporting,” commented Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens. “This is a clear violation of providers’ freedom of association. We are hopeful that this case will build on the Foundation’s landmark 2014 victory in Harris v. Quinn and end these corrupt forced-unionism schemes for good.”

Like the other Foundation case petitioned to the Court on the same day, Janus v. AFSCME, Hill v. SEIU is on track for the Supreme Court to decide whether to hear it at its conference before the next term begins in the fall.

If four justices agree, the Supreme Court could announce soon after its September 25 conference that it will hear the case. The petition also argues that if the Court doesn’t take the Hill case right away, it should at least hold it pending a decision in the Janus case.