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Cleveland Plain Dealer: Kent State custodians sue to stop university from withholding union dues from paychecks

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Three Kent State University workers sued the university and a labor union Monday, saying the university continues to deduct dues from their paychecks even though they withdrew from the labor organization following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year.

Annamarie Hannay, Adda Gape and John Kohl, who all work as custodians in student residence halls, say in the lawsuit that the university continues to deduct dues for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union. The suit says the union refuses to honor the resignation of the employees outside of “opt-out” periods spelled out in a collective bargaining agreement.

The workers say these actions are inconsistent with Janus vs. AFSCMEa Supreme Court ruling issued in June that said it is unconstitutional to require unionized public sector workers to pay “agency fees” if they decline to join the union.

The ruling was considered a blow to organized labor and a win for conservatives. It includes a section that stipulates that public sector workers must affirmatively consent to paying union dues.

The lawsuit says none of the plaintiffs opted in to the union following the Supreme Court’s ruling. It says Hannay and Gape sent letters to Kent State and the union in August resigning from the union and requesting that the university stop withholding dues from their paychecks. Kohl could not find any documentation to show he joined the union but his attorney later requested, along with the other plaintiffs, that union dues no longer be withheld from his paychecks, the suit says.

The union sent a letter to the plaintiffs Jan. 25 that union members can only opt out once a year, during a 15-day window preceding the anniversary of when a member joined, according to the suit.

Hannay’s anniversary is Sept. 7. Gape’s anniversary is March 29 and she sent letters to the union and Kent State on March 8 informing them of her resignation, the lawsuit states.

Despite all their actions, the university continues to deduct union dues from the plaintiffs’ pay, according to the lawsuit. It says the university and the union did not ask the plaintiffs if they consented to staying in the union following the Janus ruling.

AFSCME, as well as several Kent State trustees and its vice president for human resources are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. The workers ask a federal judge to declare that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights were violated.

They also ask the judge to require the union to allow the plaintiffs to resign, effective immediately, and for an unspecified amount in damages and attorneys’ fees.

The Buckeye Institute, a Columbus-based conservative think tank, represents the workers, along with the Liberty Justice Center. The latter group represented the plaintiffs in Janus.

Kent State spokesman Eric Mansfield said in a statement Tuesday that the university had not yet been served with the lawsuit, and that its legal department would review it upon receipt.

A spokeswoman for the AFSCME did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge John Adams in Akron.