University of Puerto Rico Employees Hit Union, University with Federal Class-Action Lawsuit for First Amendment Violations
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.”
The Wall Street Journal published an editorial in Tuesday’s paper detailing how two teachers are suing the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation, because union officials are forcing workers to pay dues in violation of their rights as recognized in the Foundation’s Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court victory.
The editorial quotes one of the two teachers represented by Foundation staff attorneys and shows how CTU and the Chicago School Board continued to take money from them in violation of their First Amendment rights:
When the CTU went on strike last fall, Joanne Troesch and Ifeoma Nkemdi didn’t want to stop teaching. Ms. Nkemdi says her second graders are “incredible, highly intelligent young people” but “already disenfranchised,” so “I didn’t feel they needed to be away from school, period. . . . Time away was going to be detrimental.”
Both teachers quit the union, and in late October asked Chicago Public Schools to stop deducting dues from their paychecks. But even after receiving notice, the union continued to pilfer $35.71 from Ms. Troesch and $59.51 from Ms. Nkemdi every two weeks. The CTU claims members may revoke permission for dues deductions only during the month of August, and anyone who leaves after that must pay until the next escape window.
The editorial also cites Foundation attorney Bill Messenger on such union-created “escape window” schemes:
As of May 1, there were some 89 active lawsuits nationwide challenging similar union “escape windows” or the forced collection of dues, says Bill Messenger, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation lawyer who argued Janus. He represents the two teachers.
The editorial concludes that federal courts need to enforce the Janus decision against these “escape window” schemes:
[CTU’s top lawyer] says the union operates “stringently within the letter of the law.” The union’s escape-window shenanigans show otherwise. Federal courts need to enforce Janus or it will have no meaning.
MINNEAPOLIS (May 11, 2020) – Today, six Minnesota state employees sued two of the state’s largest government unions for an estimated recovery of $19 million in union fees paid by state and local employees. The two class action lawsuits claim that because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is illegal to require public employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment, past fees should be refunded to workers.
The unions, AFSCME Council 5 and Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) collected fees for years from workers who did not want to join a union. The lawsuit against AFSCME may net $13 million in recovered fees for 8,000 state and local workers who paid fees to the union prior to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling. The lawsuit against MAPE could recover as much as $5.8 million for state employees.
The two lawsuits, Brown et al., v. AFSCME Council 5 and Fellows et al., v. MAPE were filed today by attorneys from the same nonprofit legal foundations that brought the U.S. Supreme Court case ending forced union fees, the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
“From 1993 to 2018 I was forced to pay AFSCME union dues for a union I never wanted to join in order to work for the state of Minnesota,” said Eric Brown, lead plaintiff of the class action case against AFSCME. “It is time for AFSCME to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling, return the money that was taken out of my paycheck without my permission, and return money to other Minnesota state employees who were victim to this as well.”
MAPE also took dues as a condition of employment from state workers, and three employees who have worked in a variety of roles are suing the union to reclaim their money.
Mark Fellows, a licensed social worker for the Department of Human Services paid fees from July 2007 through June 27, 2018, and said, “I joined this lawsuit because MAPE took money I didn’t want to pay and shouldn’t have been forced to pay. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, I should be entitled to get my money back.”
“Thousands of employees in Minnesota had millions of dollars illegally taken from them by AFSCME and MAPE and we’re suing to get that money back,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “Unions around the country have been playing this same game for years, and AFSCME and MAPE need to be held accountable because they violated the U.S. Constitution by taking money from public workers who weren’t union members. Liberty Justice Center is representing these public employees so that their hard-earned money is back in their pockets where it belongs.”
“It’s outrageous that almost two years after the Supreme Court ruled in Janus that requiring public sector employees to pay union dues to keep their jobs is a First Amendment violation, scofflaw union officials still refuse to give back millions and millions of forced fees seized from workers in violation of the First Amendment,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to fight alongside the plaintiffs in these cases and the countless other workers across the country challenging attempts by union officials to continue to profit from their past unconstitutional behavior.”
Workplace Advocacy Group Informs Biden Field Organizers of Rights, Offers Free Legal Aid After Teamsters Announce Forced Unionism Contract
National Right to Work Foundation President: Organizers in Right to Work states cannot be required to pay any union dues or fees to keep jobs
Washington, DC (May 6, 2020) – News reports indicate that Teamsters Local 328 union bosses have just ratified a union contract covering field organizers on the campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Union officials and the Biden campaign released a joint statement announcing the arrangement earlier this week.
In response, National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix issued the following statement informing Biden field organizers of their rights:
“Given Teamsters union bosses’ notorious reputation it is critical that Biden campaign staffers, who have been unionized without even a secret ballot election, know that despite what Teamsters organizers or their employer might say, they cannot be required to join the Teamsters.
“Biden campaign workers who work in Right to Work states should also know that they cannot be required to pay any dues or fees to the union as a condition of employment. Meanwhile, in states without Right to Work protections, while employees can be forced to pay some fees to keep their jobs, they have the right to cut off the portion of union fees used for politics and other activities not directly related to bargaining.
“Further, campaign staffers should know that it is against the law for either the Teamsters or the Biden campaign to retaliate against any employee who exercises his or her right to refrain from union membership and cut off full union dues. Biden staffers also have the right to file a decertification petition to trigger a secret ballot vote to remove the Teamsters.
“Over the years, countless workers across the country have successfully challenged Teamsters bosses’ coercive tactics with free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys. Biden field organizers, like all workers, should know they can request free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation should they need help challenging union coercion.”
Employees can request free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys at 1-800-336-3600, or at the Foundation’s website at https://www.nrtw.org/free-legal-aid.
Chicago Educators File Federal Class Action Suit against CTU Union for Dues Seizures in Violation of First Amendment
Complaint seeks to end scheme that blocks teachers from exercising constitutional right to stop union dues deductions, and to require refunds for all affected
Chicago, IL (May 5, 2020) – With free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, two Chicago Public School educators have filed a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit against the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Board of Education. The suit challenges a union policy that blocks teachers from exercising their First Amendment right to stop payments to the union outside of the month of August. The lawsuit also seeks refunds of all dues seized as a result of the unconstitutional policy, which the Board of Education enforces.
The complaint, filed for Joanne Troesch, a Technology Coordinator at Jones College Prep, and Ifeoma Nkemdi, a second-grade teacher at Newberry Math and Science Academy, charges CTU officials breached the First Amendment protections laid out in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In Janus, which was argued for then-Illinois state employee Mark Janus by one of the National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys who is handling Troesch and Nkemdi’s case, the High Court struck down mandatory union fees as a violation of the First Amendment rights of government employees. The Court ruled that any dues taken without a government worker’s affirmative consent violates the First Amendment, and further made it clear that these rights cannot be restricted absent a clear and knowing waiver.
The lawsuit explains that Troesch and Nkemdi “did not know they had a constitutional right not to financially support” the union hierarchy until the fall of last year. While they were researching how to exercise their right to continue working during a strike that CTU bosses ordered in October 2019, the complaint notes, the teachers independently discovered their First Amendment Janus rights. They sent letters the same month to CTU officials to exercise their Janus right to resign union membership and cut off all dues deductions.
According to the complaint, Troesch and Nkemdi received no response until November, when CTU officials confirmed receipt of the letters but said that they would continue to seize dues from the teachers’ paychecks “until September 1, 2020.” CTU bosses relied on the fact that Troesch and Nkemdi had not submitted their letters within a union boss-created “escape period,” which limits when teachers can exercise their First Amendment right to end dues deductions. The suit reveals that to date the Board has continued seizing dues from the teachers’ paychecks and transmitting them to the union.
Troesch and Nkemdi contend in their lawsuit that CTU officials’ attempt to curb employees’ right to stop dues deductions with an “escape period” and the Board’s continued dues seizures both violate the First Amendment. The complaint asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to order the CTU union and Board of Education to stop enforcing the unconstitutional “escape period” and notify all bargaining unit employees that they can stop the deduction of union dues at any time and “retroactively exercise that right.” The complaint also demands that the union refund the dues seized because of the unconstitutional policy from Troesch and Nkemdi and all other educators after they attempted to cut off deductions.
“Once again, teacher union officials are violating the First Amendment Janus rights of teachers they claim to represent just so they can keep the teachers’ hard-earned money rolling into their union’s coffers,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to stand with Ms. Troesch and Ms. Nkemdi, and will continue to defend all educators who simply want to serve their students and community without being forced to subsidize union activities.”
Las Vegas Security Guard Hits SPFPA Union with Charges for Trapping Workers in Union Ranks and Seizing Dues
Union officials misled employees, continue to unlawfully take full dues from nonmembers
Las Vegas, NV (May 1, 2020) – A Las Vegas security guard is charging the International Union of Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA) with seizing union dues from him and his coworkers in violation of their legal rights. His charge was filed at Region 28 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), based in Phoenix, with free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys.
According to the charge by guard Justin Stephens, SPFPA officials extended the monopoly bargaining contract with Stephens’ employer, North American Security, on January 31, 2020. The extension occurred one day after Stephens and his fellow employees sent letters to the union stating that they no longer wanted it as a bargaining agent in their workplace.
The charge explains that Stephens later submitted a batch of letters to SPFPA officials in which he and his fellow employees tried to exercise their rights to resign union membership and stop dues deductions from their paychecks. These letters were sent just before the previous contract between North American Security and the SPFPA was supposed to expire, on March 31, within the period when the employees could stop dues deductions. Because Nevada has enacted Right to Work protections for its employees, union bosses are forbidden from requiring any employee to join or pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment.
The charge asserts that the union “did not acknowledge the timely revocation the employees made on the anniversary” of the contract, ostensibly because the union officials’ hurried contract extension eliminated any opportunity the employees had to cut off union dues in anticipation of the contract’s March 31 expiration.
SPFPA bosses are still collecting full union dues “from all non-member bargaining unit employees” in violation of their right under the National Labor Relations Act to refrain from all union activities and support, according to the charge. The charge also calls the sudden extension of the monopoly bargaining contract after the workers notified the union about their opposition “an apparent attempt to avoid a decertification” vote to remove the union.
“It is beyond outrageous that SPFPA bosses believe they can play deceptive games with the workers they claim to represent, pretending to care about the employees’ input only to turn around and violate their individual rights,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “These SPFPA union bosses have demonstrated that they care far more about their ability to illegally extort forced dues from those employees than respect their rights not to fund a union of which they disapprove and to free choice of a workplace representative.”
“This case demonstrates why it is time for the NLRB to eliminate non-statutory policies that let union bosses block employees’ right to vote out a union,” Mix added. “Here the union bosses’ rush to agree to a contract appears to be motivated entirely by their desire to trap workers in dues payments and union control despite overwhelming opposition to the union.”
National Right to Work Foundation Urges FLRA to Enforce Federal Law Against Use of Taxpayer Money for Federal Union Lobbying
On Friday the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation submitted comments to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), pressing the agency to issue a policy statement forbidding the use of “official time” for union lobbying purposes. Union “Official time” occurs when federal union officials are paid by taxpayers while doing union business.
The FLRA began accepting comments on March 25, in response to the Foundation’s request in August 2019 that the agency issue guidance on this topic.
The Foundation’s comments point out that previous FLRA decisions justifying the use of “official time” for lobbying the federal government is inconsistent with longstanding federal law. The comments also explain how rampant the problem is and why it necessitates guidance from the FLRA:
“Put simply, the Authority’s prior precedent is inconsistent with [federal law]. This inconsistency has real-world implications. For example, in 2016, union officials throughout the government spent 2,738,363.88 hours of official time on actions they deemed “reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest,” including lobbying Congress…This is an astronomical number of hours, resulting in a significant amount of taxpayer money funding lobbying in violation of federal law.”
In light of this, the Foundation’s comments argue that the FLRA should “immediately and explicitly affirm the prohibitions on using official time for lobbying.”
In fact, one member of the FLRA has already recognized the strength of the Foundation’s argument, and wrote in a dissenting opinion when comments were solicited that the existing justification for this activity was so “strained and contorted” that waiting for comments shouldn’t even be necessary prior to issuing guidance that official time for union lobbying violates the law.
Read the Foundation’s full comments to the FLRA here.
Delaware Poultry Worker Hits UFCW Union Bosses with Charges for Rights Violations, Seeks Refund of Forced Dues
UFCW officials charged with illegally collecting forced union dues and threatening worker for seeking vote to remove unpopular union
Selbyville, DE (April 28, 2020) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Delaware-based employee of Mountaire Farms has just filed federal charges against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27 union for threats and other violations of federal law.
The employee, Oscar Cruz Sosa, contends that union officials are violating his and his coworkers’ rights by seizing union fees from them under an unlawful forced dues provision in the union contract. The charges also allege that a union official violated his rights when in March he visited Sosa at home uninvited and threatened him for submitting a petition signed by his coworkers seeking a vote to remove the union from their workplace. His charges were filed at Region 5 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Baltimore, Maryland.
Sosa’s charges come after the NLRB Region 5 Director rejected union arguments that the decertification election requested by Sosa and his coworkers should be blocked. Under a controversial NLRB-created policy known as the “contract bar,” employees’ statutory right to hold a decertification vote to remove a union can be blocked for up to three years when a union contract is in place. However, under longstanding precedent, the “contract bar” to decertification does not apply when the union contract in place contains an unlawful forced dues clause.
In April, the Regional Director found that the UFCW contract with Mountaire Farms contains a so-called “union security” clause which unlawfully mandates that workers’ immediately pay union dues upon hiring or be fired. That meant that, although the contract was adopted less than three years ago, the workers’ vote can still proceed. Despite the longstanding precedent supporting the Regional Director’s ruling, UFCW union lawyers have petitioned the NLRB to overrule the Regional Director. Sosa’s Foundation staff attorneys are also defending the workers’ right to hold a vote in that proceeding.
In light of the Regional Director’s finding that the forced dues clause is unlawful, Sosa’s charge asks that the Regional Director order union officials to refund all dues and fees seized from him and his coworkers under that clause. Although Delaware lacks Right to Work protections for its workers, and thus union bosses can have private sector workers fired for not paying certain union fees used for bargaining purposes, the National Labor Relations Act explicitly provides that newly hired workers have 30 days before they can be required to pay those dues. Under longstanding precedent, a forced fee clause that does not give employees that 30-day “grace period” is invalid and unenforceable.
Sosa’s charge also recites that a UFCW agent came to his house uninvited on March 8, 2020, and warned him “that the decertification process being undertaken was ‘illegal’” and that a court battle was coming. Sosa’s charge asserts that this was “threatening” and “coercive behavior” and a clear attempt to restrain him and his coworkers in the exercise of their NLRA Section 7 right to vote out an unwanted union.
“The threats and dues deductions in this case show how union bosses regularly trample workers’ rights in order to keep forced dues rolling into their coffers,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “We hope that NLRB Region 5 will immediately prosecute the union for these violations, and ultimately order that the union refund all union dues and fees collected from Mountaire Farms workers under the unlawful forced dues clause.”
Mix continued: “While UFCW officials were caught red-handed in this case, these types of forced union dues abuses will continue until Delaware workers have the protection of a Right to Work law, which ensures that all union membership and financial support are strictly voluntary.”
Teamsters Local 200 union officials agree to repay money siphoned from factory workers’ pay after he exercised rights under Wisconsin Right to Work law
Milwaukee, WI (April 27, 2020) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an employee at a Milwaukee factory has secured a settlement with Teamsters “General” Local Union No. 200. Union officials denied his right under Wisconsin’s Right to Work law and the National Labor Relations Act to cut off union financial support.
Under the terms of the settlement, Teamsters Local 200 officials will repay Tyler Lewis union dues, plus interest, seized from his paycheck after he resigned his union membership and revoked his dues deduction authorization (“checkoff”).
Lewis works for Snap-on Logistics Company. After he was hired, a union official told him that he must become a union member and sign a checkoff authorizing the deduction of union dues from his paycheck. That union demand violated longstanding law going back to 1963.
In September 2019, Lewis resigned from the union and revoked his checkoff. Local 200 union officials refused to honor Lewis’s request to stop union dues deductions and continued to deduct them from his paycheck, despite Wisconsin’s Right to Work law making union payments strictly voluntary.
Consequently, Lewis filed an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board with the help of National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys. The favorable settlement for Lewis resolves his charge.
“This settlement for Mr. Lewis is yet another victory for the rights of all Wisconsin workers, although it should not take federal labor charges for union bosses to acknowledge the basic rights of employees in the Badger State,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Clearly Wisconsin’s Right to Work law mandates that union membership and dues payment must be strictly voluntary, but union bosses regularly attempt to trap workers in forced fee ‘agreements,’ rather than respect workers’ rights and vie to win their uncoerced support.”
“This case demonstrates, yet again, why Teamsters union bosses have a well-earned reputation for using coercive tactics against workers who refuse to toe the union line,” Mix added.
Foundation Defends Michigan Teacher from Union Boss Money Grab as Union Sues for Dues Teacher Never Owed
Foundation helps teacher respond to Michigan Education Association lawsuit seeking collection of ‘back dues’ from her after she resigned her union membership
Ann Arbor, MI (April 24, 2020) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Ann Arbor-area teacher Deborah Wolter is defending herself against Michigan Educators Association (MEA) union lawyers who filed a lawsuit claiming she owes thousands of dollars in back dues, despite the fact that the purportedly owed dues are for a period after she resigned her union membership. Under Michigan’s Right to Work law, nonmembers cannot be required to make any payments of union dues or fees.
As her response to the union lawsuit notes, Wolter does not owe MEA any dues because she resigned her union membership in August 2014. Because MEA’s demands for dues violate Michigan’s Right to Work law, Wolter’s attorneys are fighting to dismiss the union’s false claims that she owes them anything.
MEA union lawyers are suing Wolter for not paying dues as a nonmember, while Wolter’s attorneys charge the union lawsuit violates Michigan’s Right to Work law—which protects nonmembers from being forced to pay union dues or fees and allows workers to cut off all dues payments after resigning their union membership.
Union lawyers further claim in their lawsuit that Wolter did not resign union membership before she stopped paying dues, despite Wolter’s August 2014 resignation. As her legal filings state, Wolter “terminated her membership in both law and fact,” and therefore does not owe MEA union bosses anything.
Last year, Foundation staff attorneys won a victory for two other teachers at Wolter’s school facing similar demands from officials of the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA), an MEA affiliate. In that case, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled AAEA violated the rights of teachers Jeffrey Finnan and Cory Merante under Michigan’s Right to Work Law by demanding that they continue to pay union fees even though they had resigned their union membership.
Since Michigan passed its Right to Work law, which became effective in March 2013, Foundation staff attorneys have brought over 120 cases for Michigan workers subjected to coercive union boss tactics.
“It is despicable that Michigan union bosses yet again are demanding forced union dues in violation of Michigan’s Right to Work law,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The National Right to Work Foundation is proud to stand with Michiganders who are exercising their rights under Michigan’s Right to Work law that makes union financial support strictly voluntary.”