Four lawsuits seek refunds of millions in dues seized from public sector workers without their consent
Washington, DC (September 27, 2021) – A petition for certiorari was filed at the United States Supreme Court late last week for workers in four separate lawsuits brought against unions whose officials refuse to return forced union fees seized from the government workers’ paychecks in violation of the First Amendment.
The cases were all filed with free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, with two filed in partnership with attorneys at the Freedom Foundation.
The lawsuits together could enable thousands of public sector employees to obtain refunds of millions of dollars in union dues seized before the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision. In Janus, the High Court ruled it a First Amendment violation to collect union dues or fees from public sector workers’ paychecks without their affirmative consent.
The Janus ruling made it clear that public employees must affirmatively consent to union payments. The Court stated in its opinion that union officials had been “on notice” since the National Right to Work Foundation-won Knox v. SEIU case in 2012 that forced union dues in the public sector likely violated the First Amendment.
The petition was filed for public sector workers in California and Oregon. It combines suits filed by William Hough, a worker at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, William D. Brice, a professor at California State University Dominguez Hills, and two suits filed by groups of Oregon state employees. The petitions argue that longstanding precedent allows victims of First Amendment violations to sue for damages or restitution. They argue public sector workers across the country who were forced to pay union dues in violation of the First Amendment deserve to be refunded.
Appellate courts ruled against the workers in each of the four lawsuits. The workers’ attorneys argue in the Supreme Court petition that the lower courts improperly imposed their own views by creating an exception for union bosses in the name of “equality and fairness” that absolved them of their obligation to repay the victims of their First Amendment violations. The petition asks the Court to reject that reasoning:
Lower courts should not be permitted to manipulate constitutional claims to predetermine the outcome of cases based on what they think is good policy or fair to the violators of constitutional rights. The Court should thus reject the proposition that courts can engage in judicial gerrymandering by granting a good faith defense based on “equality and fairness” to the violators of the First Amendment that leave the victims with no remedy.
Another class action National Right to Work Foundation lawsuit filed for government workers in Illinois who seek refunds of union dues seized in violation of Janus is fully briefed and is scheduled for consideration at the Justices’ conference next week.
“For decades, union bosses dipped into the paychecks of many workers who were not union members and used their money to finance activities those workers fiercely opposed,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix. “They continued seizing dues despite workers’ pleas and warnings from the Supreme Court that their actions were likely unconstitutional. Because of the statute of limitations, a ruling in these workers’ favor would only force union bosses to return a small portion of the billions of dollars nationwide they unlawfully stole from public employees’ paychecks.”
“The Supreme Court must not allow the lower courts to shield union bosses from accountability for years of violations. The Court should promptly take up these cases, and provide relief to the millions of public sector workers whose rights union bosses callously violated for years,” Mix added.
“The Supreme Court did not create a government employee’s First Amendment right not to be forced to fund a union as a condition of employment,” said Eric Stahlfeld, Freedom Foundation’s Chief Litigation Counsel. “Rather, the Court affirmed in Janus v. AFSCME what it had been signaling to unions in three previous cases starting with Knox,that the right had always existed and simply needed to be recognized. The Ninth Circuit claims it has sided with the unions in ‘good faith’, but if ignoring multiple Supreme Court rulings is operating in good faith, we’d hate to see what the Ninth Circuit considers bad faith.”
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