Public Employees File Brief On Case Challenging Union Limits on Stopping Union Dues

Credit: Washington Times

Brief argues union boss schemes limiting dues revocations to short periods violate the High Court’s landmark Janus v. AFSCME 2018 decision

Washington, DC (March 19, 2021) — Five public employees forced to pay union fees by dues deduction schemes have just submitted an amici curie brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Belgau v. Inslee. The amici are Chicago public school employees Ifeoma Nkemdi and Joanne Troesch, University of California Santa Barbara employee Cara O’Callaghan, Maumee City (Ohio) School district employee Michelle Cymbor, all of whom have been subjected to First Amendment violations similar to those at issue in Belgau.

The brief was submitted for the five public employees by staff attorneys with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Liberty Justice Center, nad Buckeye Institute.

Belgau is a class-action case in which a group of Washington State employees are challenging a union boss-created arrangement that limits to a 10-day per year “escape period” employees’ ability to exercise their First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing a union. The right of public sector employees to refrain from paying union dues was guaranteed to them by the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision.

Mark Janus, a former Illinois child support specialist and plaintiff in the landmark 2018 case, was represented at the Supreme Court by attorney Bill Messenger presenting oral argument.

In Janus, the Supreme Court rules that compelling public workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment violated their First Amendment rights. The Court also held that union dues or fees can only be taken from public workers’ paychecks is they clearly and affirmatively waive their right not to pay, with Justice Samuel Alito writing in the Court’s decision that “such a waiver cannot be presumed.”

In Belgau, lead plaintiff Melissa Belgau and six other Washington State employees sue Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) union for enforcing an unconstitutional “escape period” scheme. The plaintiffs all resigned their memberships and asked to cut off dues just a couple months after Janus was decided, but dues continued to be seized from their paychecks under the restrictive policy.

Their lawsuit demands that the state and union officials cease blocking workers from exercising their First Amendment right not to financially support the union, and that the union refund all dues seized from any worker who sought to end dues deductions after the Janus decision, but was denied under the policy. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against the workers in September.

The five employees’ amici brief encourages the Supreme Court to hear Belgau because the Ninth Circuit’s ruling flouted the High Court’s Janus decision by finding that it is “constitutional for a state and a union” to keep seizing “payments for union speech from objecting, nonmember employees” until an arbitrary 10-day period. The brief contends that the Constitution does not allow “states and public-sector unions” to “prohibit employees from exercising their First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing union speech for 355-56 days of every year.”

Staff attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation and Liberty Justice Center are currently litigating more than thirty Janus-related cases, including seven jointly. Buckeye Institute attorneys are litigating two such cases, including one challenging monopoly union representation that is currently pending at the Supreme Court.

“It is outrageous to claim that any government or public sector union boss policy can limit a worker’s constitutional rights to just ten days each year,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Supreme Court needs to take up this issue to affirm that its Janus ruling protects public employees every day of the year.”