The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2020 edition. To view other editions or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
Split Appeals Court decision bolsters petition for Supreme Court to take up issue
Veteran Foundation staff attorney William Messenger made history when he argued and won the Janus case before the High Court in 2018. He still represents Janus and others demanding forced-fee refunds.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – A National Right to Work Foundation-backed class-action lawsuit for Pennsylvania state employees seeking refunds of unconstitutionally seized union fees resulted in a split decision from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in August. This ruling cast serious doubt on a favorite union boss argument used to avoid refunding dues seized in violation of workers’ First Amendment rights.
The employees were defending their rights under the landmark 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court ruling. In Janus, the Court sided with former Illinois child support specialist Mark Janus and agreed with Foundation staff attorneys that requiring any public sector worker to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment is a First Amendment violation. The Court also ruled that union dues can only be taken from public servants with their affirmative and knowing consent.
The plaintiffs in Wenzig v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668 are seeking a ruling that SEIU officials must refund dues taken from employee paychecks in contravention of this standard before the Janus ruling came down. Union bosses used, as they have done in almost all similar cases, a dubious “good faith” argument to justify not refunding the dues to the victimized workers. In the split decision, two of the three judges rejected the so-called “good faith” theory.
Supreme Court Asked to End Lower Court Confusion on Janus Refunds
Foundation staff attorneys cited the growing confusion among federal judges on forced-union-fee refunds as a vital reason the Supreme Court should hear the continuation of Janus v. AFSCME. In a supplemental brief, Foundation attorneys wrote that Wenzig “supports granting review here because a majority of the Third Circuit panel rejected the good faith defense recognized by the Seventh Circuit here and by the Second, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits.”
“The Court should finally resolve this important issue and hold there is no good faith defense to Section 1983,” the brief adds. Section 1983 is the federal law requiring that those who deprive people of their constitutional rights “under color of any statute . . . shall be liable to the party injured.”
This September, Foundation staff attorneys also filed the final reply brief supporting the Supreme Court petition in Casanova v. International Association of Machinists (IAM), Local 701, another case seeking review from the High Court. It also cites the Third Circuit’s split decision. Plaintiff Benito Casanova, a Chicago Transit Authority employee, seeks to get back money that IAM bosses took from his paycheck and the paychecks of his colleagues in violation of their First Amendment rights prior to the Janus decision.
Foundation Leading Worker Efforts to Reclaim Fees Seized Against Janus
The workers in these cases and many others are collectively fighting for millions of dollars in pilfered money to be returned to them. Foundation attorneys currently represent these public servants in nearly 20 similar cases, together pursuing about $130 million in refunds to workers.
“Given the clarity of the Janus First Amendment standard, it’s bewildering that federal judges have not yet widely discredited union boss arguments that serve only to deny public sector workers refunds of money that the High Court itself ruled should have never been taken from them in the first place,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The High Court must swiftly disabuse lower courts of their misunderstandings and provide justice to workers who have been waiting years for their hard-earned money to be returned.”