Press Release: Illinois state employees file class action lawsuit against AFSCME, seeking refund of approximately $2 million in illegal union fees

CHICAGO (May 1, 2019) – The U.S. Supreme Court says it is illegal to require government workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment. Now, a group of Illinois workers forced to pay these fees prior to the Court’s decision is demanding a refund.

Today, nine workers in Illinois government filed a federal class action lawsuit against AFSCME, demanding the union return money taken from their paychecks for union “agency” or “fair share” fees before the Court’s June 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. If successful, these workers and more than 2,700 other state employees in Illinois could recoup more than $2 million that the union took from them.

The workers are represented by attorneys from the same nonprofit law firms that brought the Janus case, the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

“We’re fighting for these workers because they were put in an unconstitutional situation: Pay the union or lose your job. This was a gross violation of these workers’ rights to free speech and freedom of association, and we’re glad the Supreme Court agreed,” said Patrick Hughes, president of the Liberty Justice Center. “Now it’s time for AFSCME to rectify the situation by returning to workers the money they should never have taken in the first place.”

The Illinois workers are seeking a refund of union fees paid from May 1, 2017, through June 28, 2018, because this is what is permitted under the Illinois statute of limitations. However, each of these workers and many others have paid much more in illegal union fees over the course of their public service careers.

“Refusing to return unlawfully seized union fees to these workers and in a growing number of cases across the country represents a blatant disregard for the law,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “AFSCME union officials in this case stand in utter defiance of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision. This case proves, once again, that union officials will do whatever it takes to keep the coffers brimming with forced dues and fees at the expense of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’ Keeping hundreds of millions of dollars taken from workers in violation of their First Amendment rights is outrageous.”

The lawsuit was announced at a press conference in Chicago. The attorneys and workers were joined by Mark Janus, a former child support specialist for state government and plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME. Mark is also seeking a refund of approximately $3,000 in union fees that he paid from the time he filed his case until the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The Supreme Court said these fees are illegal. We should never have been forced to pay this money to AFSCME just so we can work in state government. We want our money back,” Mark Janus said.

For decades, government workers in Illinois and other states without right-to-work laws were required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. It didn’t matter if workers weren’t union members or did not support the unions’ positions on policies and politics; politicians in Illinois and elsewhere had granted government unions the power to exclusively represent public sector workers, and to collect mandatory union fees from their paychecks. But in 2015, a child support specialist for Illinois government named Mark Janus filed a federal lawsuit challenging the practice of mandatory union fees. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of Mark Janus on June 27, 2018, restoring the rights of free speech and freedom of association to more than 5 million government employees across the country.

The case, Leitch et al., v. AFSCME, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division. A copy of the case is available here: https://libertyjusticecenter.org/cases/leitch-v-afscme/