As soon as the Supreme Court handed down their ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, you knew that things were going to be changing. Workers definitely got the message that they had a choice as to how their money was spent on political speech and some of them had been waiting for the chance to correct this situation. Lawsuits have already started popping up on the west coast, with workers demanding to be released from their union contracts and dues obligations, and now a group in Connecticut is joining them. Government workers in the Nutmeg State are suing the SEIU and asking that previous dues withheld from their paychecks be returned to them. (Free Beacon)
Employees with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are suing the state chapter of Service Employees International Union, Local 2001, to win back dues and agency fees the state required them to pay as a condition of employment. The suit comes just months after the Supreme Court declared forced-dues schemes in the public sector an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. It alleges the department and union have made no effort to reimburse workers for mandatory payments.
“Local 2001 and the State Defendants acting under color of state law to force employees to join a union or pay a fee as a condition of continued employment have violated Plaintiffs’ rights,” the suit says. “Defendants, acting in concert with one another, have deprived, and continue to deprive, Plaintiffs and class members’ of their constitutional rights.”
While I’m clearly rooting for the workers here, they may be overreaching with this class action lawsuit. The agency stopped collecting mandatory dues from non-members and those paying “agency fees” in July, shortly after the Janus ruling. But the SEIU has still been demanding the payments as before. In that light, any money collected after the June decision should clearly go back to them. But the attorneys representing the workers in this case are claiming that the payments should have stopped being taken out after the 2012 Supreme Court decision in Knox v. SEIU.
That one may be a bit harder to prove. The Knox case was clearly decided in favor of workers objecting to payments to the union and against the SEIU. (It was a 7-2 ruling, with only Breyer and Kagan dissenting. They even convinced Sotomayor and the Notorious RBG to agree.) But Knox was applied to a fairly narrow incident. In that instance, the union had decided to set up a special “Political Fight Back Fund” which was strictly for political activism, having nothing to do with collective bargaining costs. And they did so without offering members or agency fee payers the opportunity to opt out of paying into the fund.
I agree that Knox may have opened the conversation which led to the Janus decision, but I’m not sure the courts are going to agree with the plaintiffs here. They will also take into account the fact that if they go along with this request, public sector unions across the country may suddenly find themselves liable for paying up to five or six years worth of dues back to countless members and unaffiliated workers, very likely bankrupting them. The SEIU local in question definitely needs to stop demanding payments which fly in the face of June’s SCOTUS decision, but they probably have a strong argument against the state workers in this case.