Civil rights lawsuit seeks refunds of up to 15 years of dues seized illegally from workers, end to unconstitutional forced membership and dues scheme
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San Juan, PR (May 19, 2020) – With free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, two employees of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) have filed a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit against the university and officials of the University of Puerto Rico Workers Union. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, charges union and university officials with forcing union membership and dues on employees in violation of their First Amendment rights.
The employees, Jose Ramos and Orlando Mendez, contend that union and university officials are infringing on their rights recognized in the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. In Janus, the High Court ruled that requiring public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment breaches the First Amendment, and further held that union fees can only be taken from public employees with an affirmative waiver of the right not to pay.
Mendez’ and Ramos’ complaint also alleges that the monopoly bargaining contract’s requirement that all employees become union members violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of association. The lawsuit says university and union officials also broke a contract provision that permits deduction of union dues from employee paychecks only after receiving authorization from employees.
The lawsuit recounts that Mendez and Ramos have been employed by the University as maintenance workers since 1997 and 1996, respectively. From then, the complaint says, university and union officials “have regarded Ramos and Mendez as members of the Union” and seized dues from their paychecks, despite neither ever having signed a union membership or dues deduction authorization form.
In July 2018, less than a month after the Janus decision was issued, Mendez and Ramos both sent letters to the union exercising their First Amendment right to end union membership and cut off dues deductions. The union ignored these requests, and the union and University ignored attempts by both men to renew those demands in March 2020, according to the lawsuit. The complaint says that the University continues to take full dues from their paychecks.
Mendez’ and Ramos’ lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court to declare unconstitutional the contract provisions forcing employees into both membership and dues payments, and to declare that union and university officials breached the monopoly bargaining contract by seizing dues from employee paychecks without written authorization. The lawsuit additionally seeks an order forbidding further enforcement of the unconstitutional schemes, and an order requiring the union to refund to employees dues that were seized illegally “within the…15-year statute of limitations period for breach of contract.”
“For years University of Puerto Rico Workers Union officials have been able to get away with trampling the rights of the workers they claim to represent, not only by illegally filling their coffers with forced dues in violation of Janus, but also by forcing employees into union membership, a practice that has always been unconstitutional,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “They must not be permitted to profit from their past malfeasance, and the Foundation is proud to stand with Mr. Mendez and Mr. Ramos as they fight for their rights and the rights of their coworkers.”