Employees exercised constitutional right to stop funding union activities, but union-imposed restriction blocks exercise of right for over 90 percent of year
Toledo, OH (December 8, 2022) – Three Lucas County Job and Family Services (JFS) employees have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Ohio Council 8 union and their employer. They charge union and county officials with seizing dues money from their paychecks in violation of the First Amendment. The employees are receiving free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and The Buckeye Institute.
The employees, Penny Wilson, Theresa Fannin, and Kozait Elkhatib, are asserting their constitutional rights recognized in the landmark 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Janus, the Court declared it a First Amendment violation to force public sector workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. It also ruled that union officials can only deduct money from the paycheck of a public sector employee who has voluntarily waived his or her Janus rights.
“Plaintiffs . . . file this suit to stop Lucas County JFS and AFSCME from seizing union payments from them without their consent and to receive compensation for violations of their First Amendment rights,” reads the workers’ complaint.
Lucas County Employees Weren’t Informed of First Amendment Right to Abstain from Union Dues
Officials from AFSCME Council 8 and Lucas County JFS enforce a policy which permits the direct deduction of union dues from employees’ paychecks. According to the policy, employees who wish to stop subsidizing the union have only a handful of days per year in which to do so; an “escape period” that effectively forbids the exercise of their First Amendment Janus rights for over 90 percent of the year.
AFSCME union officials never informed Wilson, Fannin, and Elkhatib of this restriction. Union officials also never told the women that they had a First Amendment right under Janus to abstain from dues deductions, or that union dues could only be taken from them if they waived that right.
The employees discovered their Janus rights independently. Each attempted to exercise those rights twice by sending letters to AFSCME union officials stating that they were ending their union memberships and terminating dues deductions. AFSCME union officials denied all three women’s requests, stating that union dues deductions would continue because the letters missed the narrow “escape period” imposed by the union.
“Plaintiffs did not knowingly, intelligently, or voluntarily waive their First Amendment rights…The restrictions on stopping government dues deductions…are unenforceable as against public policy because the restriction significantly impinges on employees’ First Amendment rights,” reads the complaint.
Employees Seek Return of All Dues Seized Without Consent
Wilson, Fannin, and Elkhatib’s lawsuit seeks to stop Lucas County JFS and AFSCME union officials from seizing dues from their paychecks, and also seeks a refund of all union dues taken from their wages without their consent.
“AFSCME union officials decided to keep lining their pockets with money from Ms. Wilson, Ms. Fannin, and Ms. Elkhatib, instead of respecting each woman’s clear exercise of her First Amendment Janus right to stop supporting unwanted union activities,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “America’s public workers should not have to file federal lawsuits to defend their Janus rights, which union officials should inform them about in the first place before taking dues.”
“After learning of their First Amendment and Janus rights, Mses. Wilson, Fannin, and Elkhatib all notified their employer and the union in writing that they resigned from the union and requested that membership dues deductions stop,” said Jay R. Carson, senior litigator at The Buckeye Institute. “But as unions have done in so many other cases, AFSCME Council 8 refused to stop membership dues deductions and relied on the dues checkoff authorization card that unions have employed to disregard workers’ clear wishes. It is time for unions to start respecting workers’ wishes, and for public employers to start informing employees of their constitutional rights and stop acting as the unions’ bagman.”
Foundation attorneys scored a significant victory for Ohio public servants’ Janus rights in a 2020 lawsuit against another Ohio AFSCME local (Council 11). Rather than face off against Foundation attorneys, those AFSCME union officials backed down and settled the case. As a result, Foundation attorneys freed almost 30,000 Ohio public employees from a “maintenance of membership” scheme that limited the exercise of Janus rights to roughly once every three years.
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.