Employee Sues Illinois School District, Union Over Dues

Supreme Court Hears Major Challenge To Union Membership In Janus v. AFSCME
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A school employee in Illinois filed a federal lawsuit against a local school district and the state's largest public sector union, claiming both refused to stop deducting union dues from her paycheck months after she left the union.

Susan Bennett, a janitor at the Moline-Coal Valley School District since 2009, withdrew from her union shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forced union dues as a condition of employment violated the First Amendment. The high court's decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 struck down forced union fees as unconstitutional.

Bennett alleged the school district refused to stop deducting union dues from her paychecks in the lawsuit, which was filed in the Central District of U.S. District Court.

"Since November 2018, the union and the school district have been fully aware they do not have permission to collect money from my paycheck," Bennett said. "I submitted my resignation as soon as I could after learning about the decision. The union did not inform me of my rights after the Janus decision and I should not have to wait months to exercise them."

In the suit, she said that the district was forcing her to wait until an enrollment period to withdraw based on her union agreement entered into before the Janus decision. Unions have used similar tactics elsewhere to retain members after the 2018 Supreme Court decision.

"Based on your enrollment card with AFSCME, see attached, you have to wait until the enrollment period to withdrawal," district CFO Dave McDermott wrote in an email response to Bennett. "I believe the next opportunity is August 2019."

The lawsuit references the "affirmative response" provision of the Janus decision that said unions must get specific permission from public-sector union members to lawfully withdraw dues.

Bennett is being represented by the Liberty Justice Center, the same nonprofit group that represented former Illinois employee Mark Janus in the landmark Supreme Court case. The court said government employees can’t be required to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that government employees ‘must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them,’ " said Jeffrey Schwab, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. "Ms. Bennett does not give her permission of union dues and contributions to be deducted. By refusing to end her union deductions, the Moline-Coal Valley School District is placing the interests of the union ahead of school workers."

AFSCME Council 31 didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. A district official said they would not comment on personnel matters.