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Star Tribune: Union pressured Inver Hills college clerk to join, lawsuit says

Sue Halloran is a community college employee in Minnesota who faced pressure to join AFSCME Council 5 with misleading information about union membership. She has filed a federal lawsuit for this violation of her First Amendment rights with the help of attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center and the Upper Midwest Law Center.

With Halloran v. AFSCME Council 5, Liberty Justice Center seeks to end coerced union membership and uphold government employees’ ability to exercise their “Janus rights.”

This article first appeared in the Star Tribune on September 17, 2019.

A Twin Cities community college employee is suing the union representing campus clerical workers and the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities, alleging she was pressured to join the union without receiving sufficient information.

The lawsuit against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council (AFSCME) 5 was filed in federal court this week by attorneys from the Upper Midwest Law Center and the Liberty Justice Center, the nonprofit behind the last year’s major Janus vs. AFSCME Supreme Court ruling, in which a divided court found public-sector employees have a First Amendment right not to join unions or pay union dues. The Minnesota suit invokes the Janus ruling in arguing that the local union violated the First Amendment rights of Susan Halloran, an account clerk at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights.

Halloran says that earlier this year a union representative pulled her out of a workplace training session and pressured her into signing a dues-authorization form without telling her how much membership would cost or informing her of her right not to join.

“The pressure and misinformation Ms. Halloran faced during work hours from a political organization, AFSCME, is unconstitutional and contrary to the rules set by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Daniel Suhr, a Liberty Justice Center lawyer, said in a statement.

The local AFSCME chapter declined to comment Tuesday, citing the pending litigation.

The culmination of a years long push to weaken public-sector unions in the courts, the Janus decision was a significant setback for organized labor. Halloran’s case is the first the Liberty Justice Center has brought in Minnesota stemming from the Janus ruling and — with the group saying it has been approached by numerous public-sector workers in the state — possibly an opening salvo in a broader legal attack.

According to the court complaint, Halloran was approached by an AFSCME representative after starting as a senior account clerk in the Inver Hills Community College business office in October 2018. In April, she was pulled out of training and asked to sign a dues authorization form the union representative had pulled up on his tablet. She said she felt pressured to return to her training and signed the form.

She found later that the dues would cost about $700 a year and reached out to the union the day after signing, saying she could not afford to pay because of expenses for cancer treatment she was undergoing. She says she was told she was locked in for the following year.

The lawsuit argues Halloran should have been informed that she did not have to join the union and should have received clear information about the cost of membership. The complaint says she approached the human resources office at the college, and attorneys wrote to college administrators, but she did not receive help. Eric Davis, the Minnesota State vice chancellor for human resources, is listed as a defendant in the suit.

“Minnesota State is following practices and policies as outlined in current law and meeting its obligations to employees and to AFSCME,” system spokesman Doug Anderson said in a statement.

Read the full article on the Star Tribune.