Lawsuit seeks return under Janus precedent of all fees seized by SEIU union officials from nonmembers
Hartford, CT (September 6, 2018) – National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys have filed a federal class action lawsuit for two Connecticut state employees to reclaim union fees SEIU officials unconstitutionally seized from them and similarly situated employees. The class action complaint potentially covers hundreds of individuals and seeks to enforce the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision, which held that the First Amendment prohibits mandatory union fees for public sector employees.
Kiernan Wholean and James Grillo, workers at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), filed the complaint against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2001 and the Secretary of Office of Policy Management, the Undersecretary of Labor Relations, and the Commissioner of DEEP of Connecticut.
The complaint, filed at the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleges that by failing to refund the full amount of seized union fees from union nonmembers and by maintaining a union monopoly bargaining agreement that requires nonmembers to pay union fees as a condition of employment, SEIU Local 2001 violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights as protected by the new Janus precedent.
Although Wholean and Grillo are not members of SEIU Local 2001 and had not consented to the deduction of forced fees, they and other non-union member employees were forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment under state law.
In the Foundation-won Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision, the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to require government workers to pay any union dues and fees as a condition of employment. Additionally, the Court clarified that no union dues or fees can be taken from those workers without their affirmative consent and knowing waiver of their First Amendment right not to financially support a labor union.
However, although Connecticut has stopped deducting union fees from the plaintiffs’ wages, Local 2001 has failed to refund the fees it seized without the plaintiffs’ consent before the Janus ruling. Additionally, despite that the Supreme Court ruled in Janus more than two months ago, DEEP maintains a collective bargaining agreement with SEIU Local 2001 officials that requires non-union members to pay union fees as a condition of employment.
The complaint requests that the court certify a class that includes all individuals who at any time since June 13, 2015, were forced to pay union fees to SEIU Local 2001 without their affirmative consent and knowing waiver of their First Amendment rights, so they can all receive refunds of the money taken from them in violation of their Constitutional rights within the statutory limitations period.
“The Supreme Court finally upheld public sector workers’ First Amendment right to choose whether or not to support a union without the threat of being fired, but justice also demands that the victims of such schemes have returned the money union bosses illegally seized from them,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “This class action is one of many across the country which together seek the return of more than $100 million to the victims of union bosses’ unconstitutional forced dues schemes.”
In July, Foundation staff attorneys secured the first such refund under the Janus decision for Oregon state employee Deborah Nearman. As part of a settlement, SEIU Local 503 refunded the Department of Fish and Wildlife worker almost $3,000 that had been collected as mandatory union fees.
The Foundation has created a special website, MyJanusRights.org, to assist public employees in exercising their rights under Janus, which was successfully briefed and argued by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorney William Messenger.
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.