Class action lawsuit challenges a NJ law that blocks workers from exercising First Amendment rights outside 10 day “escape period”
Philadelphia, PA (September 29, 2020) – On Wednesday, a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will hear arguments in a class action lawsuit brought by two New Jersey teachers against the Township of Ocean Education Association (TOEA), New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the National Education Association (NEA) unions. The teachers are receiving free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.
Susan G. Fischer and Jeanette Speck are asking the Court of Appeals to order NJEA union bosses to return illegally-seized dues taken without the teachers’ consent in violation of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The teachers will be represented during arguments by Foundation staff attorney William Messenger, who also successfully argued for Mark Janus at the US Supreme Court.
In Janus the High Court ruled it unconstitutional to require public employees to subsidize a labor union. The Court further held that any union dues or fees taken without a public employee’s affirmative consent violate the employee’s First Amendment rights.
In their complaint, Fischer and Speck say union officials continued to collect dues without their consent, even after they resigned their membership in July 2018. Township officials told the teachers they could only stop payments and withdraw their membership during an annual 10-day window.
In May 2018, New Jersey’s legislature created the escape period while the Janus case was pending a decision. The teachers’ suit argues that because the Janus ruling gave public employees the First Amendment right not to financially support union activities, the New Jersey law is unconstitutional and must be struck down. They seek a refund of membership dues for themselves and all other public employees who attempted to resign following Janus but were denied by union officials.
Similar union-created “escape period” schemes have been challenged in dozens of Foundation cases, including the recently concluded Allen v. Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. In that case, OCSEA union officials ultimately settled by eliminating the union’s escape period restriction and promising to pay back dues collected from more than 150 state employees who had been blocked from exercising their rights under Janus.
“Once again, rather than work to win the voluntary support of those they claim to represent, union officials are resorting to legal tricks to trap workers in dues payments,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Contrary to the wishes of union bosses and their political allies, civil servants enjoy the protection of the Constitution every day of the year.”
“Neither a union policy nor state law can limit teachers’ or other public employees’ First Amendment rights to an arbitrary ‘escape period,’” Mix added. “The Foundation remains committed to fully enforcing the constitutional rights of Susan, Jeanette, and millions of other public sector workers as guaranteed by the Supreme Court in Janus.”
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 around 250 cases nationwide per year.