March 3, 2019 — Pennsylvania lawmakers were warned last fall that if the state didn't amend its laws to comply with the terms of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Janus v. AFSCME ruling, the result could be a host of legal complications. That warning is now ringing true.
The nonprofit Liberty Justice Center has filed a pair of lawsuits against Pennsylvania unions, claiming they failed to comply with the Janus ruling. The Liberty Justice Center represented plaintiff Mark Janus of Illinois in the original Supreme Court case, and its lawyers are now aiming to help workers across the country who should be benefiting from that case.
The Janus ruling involved so-called “fair share fees” that public sector unions have collected from nonmembers across the country. The premise of these fees was that even nonmembers enjoyed the benefits of collective bargaining, and therefore it was proper to expect them to pay some portion of the costs to support the union.
The majority of the Supreme Court ruled, however, that because unions are politically active, compelling workers to support a union financially is effectively an unconstitutional restraint of their freedom of association rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
One of the new lawsuits, Oliver v. SEIU Local 668, involves a caseworker for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Shalea Oliver. For six months after the Janus ruling, the Liberty Justice Center says, the state of Pennsylvania continued to take money from her paycheck on behalf of the union even though she had resigned as a union member and demanded that the deductions stop.
“This is a blatant violation of Shalea’s First Amendment rights,” Jeffrey Schwab, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, said in a news release. “The Commonwealth is deducting union dues from her paycheck without her explicit permission. The Supreme Court was clear in Janus: Government employers cannot deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks unless workers have told them to.”
The Liberty Justice Center argues that any consent workers gave for union dues to be deducted pre-Janus became immediately null and void upon the issuance of the Supreme Court ruling.
“Consent cannot be assumed; it must be voluntary, knowing and shown by clear and compelling evidence,” the center said in its news release. “Therefore, anything that an employee signed before Janus authorizing union dues be withheld cannot constitute affirmative consent because at the time it was signed the employee was given an unconstitutional choice of paying the union as a member and paying the union as a nonmember.”
The case was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
In the second lawsuit, the center is representing four Lebanon County mental health workers under similar circumstances, saying that the county continued to collect union dues without their permission. That case, Adams v. Teamsters Local 429, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.