CWA union officials quickly settle: rather than litigate, will stop enforcing unconstitutional policy and refund to workers blocked from stopping forced dues
Columbus, Ohio (May 7, 2019) – A federal First Amendment lawsuit brought by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys for a civil servant against Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 4502 and the City of Columbus has forced union officials to settle.
The settlement ends a union-created “escape period” policy that blocked City of Columbus worker Connie Pennington and hundreds of her coworkers from exercising their constitutional right to refrain from financially supporting the union. Union officials will refund all the money taken from the workers because their legal resignations were blocked under the union-created policy.
Connie Pennington, an employee of the City of Columbus, filed the lawsuit to challenge CWA Local 4502’s so-called “escape period” policy as a violation of her constitutional rights under the National Right to Work Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision to refrain from financially supporting the union.
After the landmark Janus decision, Pennington resigned her membership and revoked her union dues deduction authorization. However, CWA union officials refused to honor her revocation, instead claiming that she could only stop union dues payments at the end of the monopoly bargaining agreement with her employer in May 2020, leaving her trapped paying forced dues for almost two years.
Faced with being forced to subsidize the union against her will, Pennington sought free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys. Veteran Foundation staff attorney William Messenger, who argued and won the Janus case at the Supreme Court, sent a letter to CWA Local 4502 union officials for Pennington, reiterating her dues deduction revocation and explaining that a policy blocking her from exercising those rights violated the First Amendment. However, CWA officials continued to refuse to recognize her revocation and continued to deduct union fees from Pennington’s paycheck.
Pennington filed a class action lawsuit with help from Foundation staff attorneys challenging the so-called “escape period” policy as unconstitutional, because it limits when she can exercise her First Amendment rights under Janus and allows CWA Local 4502 officials to collect union dues without her affirmative consent.
In Janus, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to require public employees to subsidize a labor union. The Court further held that deducting any union dues or fees without a public employee’s affirmative consent violates the employee’s First Amendment rights.
Rather than face Foundation attorneys in court, union officials, concerned about losing even more privileges, settled the lawsuit. Under the terms, union officials and the city of Columbus will stop enforcing the “escape period” policy that trapped workers into paying forced union dues until the end of union officials’ monopoly bargaining contract.
Additionally, union officials will refund to Pennington all union dues deducted from her paycheck after she revoked her dues deduction authorization. Union officials will also identify any other workers whose rights were blocked by the illegal “escape period” policy, honor their requests to resign and revoke their dues deduction authorization, and refund the dues deducted under the policy. The City of Columbus will stop deducting union dues for CWA Local 4502 from any worker who has revoked a dues deduction authorization.
“Ms. Pennington stood up for her rights and successfully defeated this forced-fees, coercive scheme, freeing not just herself but also hundreds of her colleagues,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “This victory joins previous settlements that have resulted in union bosses dropping illegal restrictions that attempt to keep their forced-dues stream flowing by undermining the First Amendment rights of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’ The National Right to Work Foundation will continue to project public sector employees’ rights under Janus.”
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys are providing free legal aid to public sector workers in over two dozen cases across the country to enforce the Janus decision. To assist public employees in learning about their First Amendment rights under Janus, the Foundation established a special website: MyJanusRights.org.
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.