In a 5-4 decision made last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the extraction of agency fees from Illinois State’s nonconsenting employees of the public-sector violates their First Amendment rights. After the decision was made, all workers who attempted to withdraw their consent to extract agency fees, were refunded the money taken under the policy. The court stated that, “States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees. … employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them.”
The Supreme Court decision is sparking class action lawsuits across the country. In Ohio, Smith v. AFSCME has been monumental for post-Janus rulings. The suit was filed by several employees across Ohio who are employed by local government agencies. All of the employees attempted to withdraw their union membership and their dues deduction authorization following the Janus ruling. They were each denied their First Amendment right as union officials continued to extract dues. Officials followed the “15-day window period” that only allowed for resignation of the union 15 days prior to the expiration of the collective bargaining contract. This led to the employees filing suit against AFSCME, alleging that the policy was unconstitutional.
The employees were represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, who also represented Mark Janus in Janus. At the end of January 2019, the case was finally settled. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, AFSCME agreed to pay back all union dues that were extracted after the employees attempted to withdraw their consent. The union will not deduct any agency fees or dues that were previously subject to the window policy. This is monumental because it is the first class action lawsuit since the Janus ruling in which union officials have reversed their policy on the window period. President of the National Right to Work Foundation, Mark Mix, said, “This first-in-the-nation victory in a class action case to enforce workers’ rights under Janus should be the first of many cases that result in union bosses dropping their illegal restrictions on workers seeking to exercise their rights secured in the Foundation’s Janus Supreme Court victory.” As of January 24th, Foundation was litigating 20 cases nationwide to enforce employee’s rights.
What this Means for Your District
In light of the ruling in Janus and the Smith settlement, districts should be mindful that any “window policy” on withdrawing union membership may present legal complications for the district if challenged. Districts should review their collective bargaining agreements and consult with their local unions regarding its position on that provision given Smith.