Conn. Workers Sue SEIU for Back Dues

Fallout continues for labor in wake of Supreme Court ruling striking down forced fees

Members of SEIU hold a rally / Getty Images
• September 9, 2018 5:00 am


Government workers in Connecticut have filed a class-action suit to recover their wages in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling against coercive unionism.

Employees with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are suing the state chapter of Service Employees International Union, Local 2001, to win back dues and agency fees the state required them to pay as a condition of employment. The suit comes just months after the Supreme Court declared forced-dues schemes in the public sector an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. It alleges the department and union have made no effort to reimburse workers for mandatory payments.

"Local 2001 and the State Defendants acting under color of state law to force employees to join a union or pay a fee as a condition of continued employment have violated Plaintiffs' rights," the suit says. "Defendants, acting in concert with one another, have deprived, and continue to deprive, Plaintiffs and class members' of their constitutional rights."

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that government agencies could no longer require workers to pay union fees or dues as a condition of employment, overturning the long-standing precedent set forth in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977). The ruling has caused panic in the labor movement as the four largest public-sector unions, including SEIU, face the loss of 400,000 agency fee payers who provide partial dues meant to cover the cost of representational activities, such as collective bargaining and grievance proceedings, while withholding financial support for political activities and lobbying. The loss of those partial payments could cost labor organizations hundreds of millions of dollars.

SEIU Local 2001 represents about 21,000 workers and collects more than $6 million in revenue each year charging dues that range between $300 and $884 per year, according to its 2017 federal labor filings. The union had only 682 agency fee payers that year. The department ceased automatic deductions for dissenters in July following the Janus ruling, but the union continues to demand payments from them, according to the suit. The workers, who are represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation—the same lawyers who argued Janus before the Supreme Court—argue that deductions should have ceased years earlier since the Supreme Court questioned the constitutionality of compulsory union fees in the 2012 Knox case. The suit also seeks a pledge from the union that it will not seek to include mandatory payments in future contract negotiations with the state.

"Local 2001 has been on notice since at least the Supreme Court's decision in Knox in 2012 that agency fees violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment as the Court explained in Janus," the suit says. It further asks the Court to expressly prohibit "the State Defendants from requiring, requesting, collecting, receiving, or in any other way possessing or obtaining union fees from Plaintiffs and the class at all."

The union vowed to fight the suit, calling it "malevolently motivated" and "completely without merit." Local 2001 said it abided by all relevant federal laws in collecting dues and that it was within its right to accept agency fees after the Supreme Court affirmed mandatory payments in the Abood case. Union executive director David Glidden said it has complied fully with the new Janus standard.

"The lawsuit, in addition to being malevolently motivated, is completely without merit, and we shall vigorously defend against it. CSEA has complied fully with the Janus decision since it was issued," he said in a statement. "Prior to that, we collected fair share fees in accordance with 35 years of Supreme Court precedent for the purposes of negotiating and administering contracts, and therefore we are confident that we will prevail in this matter."

A department spokesman referred the Washington Free Beacon to a spokesman for Democratic governor Dannel Malloy. The governor's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Published under: Connecticut, SEIU