Albuquerque, N.M. (July 2, 2004) – Certifying a federal civil rights lawsuit as a class action, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico authorized hundreds of nonunion employees of the City of Albuquerque to challenge the misuse of their forced union dues for politics and other activities. National Right to Work Foundation attorneys filed the class action suit, Harrington v. Albuquerque, on behalf of roughly 300 blue-collar city government employees against the City of Albuquerque and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union Local 624, New Mexico Council 18, and AFSCME International. Foundation attorneys filed the suit after the City unlawfully deducted forced union dues from the paychecks of nonmembers used for activities unrelated to collective bargaining, including support of union politics, without proper procedural protections. The unlawfully seized dues were deducted from workers’ paychecks between July 1999 and April 2000. The amount of unlawfully seized dues in question amounts to roughly $36,000, and the AFSCME union faces the possibility of a substantial judgment awarding punitive damages, particularly in light of its misconduct. AFSCME’s notice to nonunion workers also misrepresented how union officials were spending their forced dues. Certification of the class action suit follows the remanding of a similar case, Wessel v. City of Albuquerque, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. In Wessel, which was not a class action, the Court of Appeals ruled that workers’ procedural rights had been violated, and that they could seek restitution of monies not used for lawful chargeable purposes. Senior Judge C. Leroy Hansen dismissed the arguments of AFSCME union lawyers to prevent Foundation attorneys from being recognized as counsel for all employees who are similarly situated to the lead plaintiff, stating, “…all [AFSCME union] Defendants have shown is that Plaintiffs’ counsel want to win this lawsuit…The Defendants do not allege that Plaintiffs’ counsel has acted unethically or otherwise inappropriately, as the Defendants’ counsel have repeatedly done themselves.” Judge Hansen’s comments referred to arguments by AFSCME union lawyers opposing class action certification that cited language from previous cases “…out of context under the apparent and mistaken impression that the court would not read the cases cited in their briefs…” The actions of AFSCME union officials violated First Amendment protections as articulated in the Foundation-won Supreme Court decision in Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson. Under Hudson, union officials must provide an independently audited disclosure of their books and justify expenditures before seizing any forced union dues from employees who have chosen to refrain from union membership. “AFSCME officials are trying to get away with using City of Albuquerque employees as their personal piggy bank,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Rather than actually represent these workers, union operatives simply want them to shut up and pay up.”