Complaint seeks to end scheme that blocks teachers from exercising constitutional right to stop union dues deductions, and to require refunds for all affected
Chicago, IL (May 5, 2020) – With free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, two Chicago Public School educators have filed a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit against the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Board of Education. The suit challenges a union policy that blocks teachers from exercising their First Amendment right to stop payments to the union outside of the month of August. The lawsuit also seeks refunds of all dues seized as a result of the unconstitutional policy, which the Board of Education enforces.
The complaint, filed for Joanne Troesch, a Technology Coordinator at Jones College Prep, and Ifeoma Nkemdi, a second-grade teacher at Newberry Math and Science Academy, charges CTU officials breached the First Amendment protections laid out in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In Janus, which was argued for then-Illinois state employee Mark Janus by one of the National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys who is handling Troesch and Nkemdi’s case, the High Court struck down mandatory union fees as a violation of the First Amendment rights of government employees. The Court ruled that any dues taken without a government worker’s affirmative consent violates the First Amendment, and further made it clear that these rights cannot be restricted absent a clear and knowing waiver.
The lawsuit explains that Troesch and Nkemdi “did not know they had a constitutional right not to financially support” the union hierarchy until the fall of last year. While they were researching how to exercise their right to continue working during a strike that CTU bosses ordered in October 2019, the complaint notes, the teachers independently discovered their First Amendment Janus rights. They sent letters the same month to CTU officials to exercise their Janus right to resign union membership and cut off all dues deductions.
According to the complaint, Troesch and Nkemdi received no response until November, when CTU officials confirmed receipt of the letters but said that they would continue to seize dues from the teachers’ paychecks “until September 1, 2020.” CTU bosses relied on the fact that Troesch and Nkemdi had not submitted their letters within a union boss-created “escape period,” which limits when teachers can exercise their First Amendment right to end dues deductions. The suit reveals that to date the Board has continued seizing dues from the teachers’ paychecks and transmitting them to the union.
Troesch and Nkemdi contend in their lawsuit that CTU officials’ attempt to curb employees’ right to stop dues deductions with an “escape period” and the Board’s continued dues seizures both violate the First Amendment. The complaint asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to order the CTU union and Board of Education to stop enforcing the unconstitutional “escape period” and notify all bargaining unit employees that they can stop the deduction of union dues at any time and “retroactively exercise that right.” The complaint also demands that the union refund the dues seized because of the unconstitutional policy from Troesch and Nkemdi and all other educators after they attempted to cut off deductions.
“Once again, teacher union officials are violating the First Amendment Janus rights of teachers they claim to represent just so they can keep the teachers’ hard-earned money rolling into their union’s coffers,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to stand with Ms. Troesch and Ms. Nkemdi, and will continue to defend all educators who simply want to serve their students and community without being forced to subsidize union activities.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.