Members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) this January returned to work following a six-day strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District. But as that battle was ending, a more significant one was being launched. On January 22, Irene Seager, a teacher in Los Angeles’ Porter Ranch area, filed suit in federal court against the union and the school district challenging the union’s authority to limit dues opt-outs by dissenting employees to an annual window of just 30 days. Seager also wants a refund of dues she already paid. Unlike a more expansive suit filed against the union and the school district months ago by another teacher, Thomas Few, this one seeks class-action status. The case is part of a growing number of public-sector employee suits in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Janus ruling last June.
The union calls them “service fees.” In practice, they amount to dues. And public school teachers are among those who believe that it is a distinction without a difference. On November 13, Thomas Few, a special education teacher in Los Angeles, filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District challenging their tandem practice of deducting a large fee from salaries of teachers who remain employed but leave the union. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, Few had informed the union of his intent to resign, but was told that he would have to pay an annual “service fee” equivalent to monthly dues. The union, an affiliate of the state chapters of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, … Read More ➡ “Los Angeles Teacher Sues Union, School District Over Forced Representation”
The Supreme Court’s Janus decision four months ago, which overturned the authority of public-sector unions to force nonmember employees under contract to pay dues or risk losing their jobs, has taken some unexpected turns. Indeed, barely after the ruling, a Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit group, the Buckeye Institute, filed separate suits on behalf of a high school teacher in Ohio and a college professor in Minnesota challenging the authority of their respective unions to bargain exclusively. In effect, the plaintiffs seek to be freed from representation they never requested in the first place. “These capable public servants have the right to speak for themselves and should be released from forced association with unions and advocacy with which they disagree,” said Institute President Robert Alt. The unions have a different view.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME was a stunning blow to over 40 years of public-sector union monopoly power. Union leaders for their part are pushing back. They have plenty of allies in state governments, and perhaps no state is as vociferous as New York. Indeed, on June 27, the day of the ruling, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to protect union members from outside intimidation – ironic, given the pressure unions often use to collect dues. The State of New York also has begun deducting dues from the pay of government workers without even checking to see if they are members. And now a prominent lawmaker wants taxpayers to reimburse unions for foregone dues.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners long has had corruption problems. The union’s St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Council might well qualify as its corruption leader. Two years ago, Jonathan Gould, a union member and former compliance officer for the council, filed a civil racketeering suit in Missouri state court accusing council officials of “embezzling money from members to inflate their own pensions and cash in on travel perks for spouses,” plus acts of sexual harassment, assault, drunk driving, and drug abuse. The council, which consists of 34 unions in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois representing about 22,000 members, has responded with a blitz of counterclaims. Matters have yet to be settled.
In the annals of American labor relations, history sometimes reverses course. That certainly was true yesterday in Missouri. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters overturned a law passed and signed early last year to protect private-sector workers under union contract from being forced to pay dues in order to keep their jobs. The referendum, known as Proposition A, had been placed on the ballot via petition. Union leaders now are serving notice that the Missouri vote is the beginning of nationwide campaign to repeal similar “Right to Work” laws in 27 other states. “The defeat of this poisonous anti-worker legislation is a victory for all workers across the country,” crowed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. His declaration seems a case of myopia.