Press Release: Maryland state employees file class action lawsuit against AFSCME, seeking refund of approximately $7 million in illegal union fees

BALTIMORE, Md. (Sept. 4, 2019) – The U.S. Supreme Court says it is illegal to require public employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment. Now, a group of Maryland state employees who were forced to pay these fees prior to the Court’s decision is demanding a refund.

Today, 19 Maryland state employees filed a federal class-action lawsuit against AFSCME Council 3, 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 nearly 10,000 other state employees could recoup up to $7 million that the union took from them.

The lawsuit is Mattos et al., v. AFSCME Council 3. It was filed today 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.

“For years, thousands of employees for the state of Maryland faced an unconstitutional situation: Pay the union or lose your job. But in 2018 the Supreme Court was very clear that these mandatory union fees violated the U.S. Constitution,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder 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 workers are seeking a refund of non-member fees paid to AFSCME between September 4, 2016, and June 27, 2018, because this is what is permitted under the Maryland 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. The state employees in the lawsuit paid an average of $400 a year in fees to the union in order to work in their positions.

“I was never a member of AFSCME and I never wanted anything to do with the union, yet I paid the union more than $2,000 since 2011,” said Gary Mattos, a correctional dietary officer with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for 20 years and lead plaintiff of the new case. “Taking money from hardworking people without their permission is wrong and I was relieved that the Supreme Court agrees. I want my money back and so do many other state employees.”

“Unlawfully seizing union fees from workers and then refusing to return them in utter defiance of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision shows how little AFSCME officials care about the rights of the very workers they claim to represent,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Union bosses across the country have profited to the tune of billions of dollars by violating public employees' First Amendment rights. This case joins dozens of others coast-to-coast in seeking the return to workers of money that the Supreme Court has affirmed should never have been taken from them in the first place."

For years, employees of the state of Maryland 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; these mandatory fees were permitted under state law. 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 five million government employees across the country.

The lawsuit was announced at a press conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The attorneys and workers were joined by Mark Janus, 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 case, Mattos et al., v. AFSCME Council 3, was filed in the U.S. District Court for District of Maryland. A copy of the case is available here.