Ohio Union Faces Class Action Suit

Government workers forced to pay dues despite resigning

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March 17, 2019

An Ohio woman is suing one of the state's most powerful unions for its continued collection of dues payments over her objections.

Connie Pennington has been forced to pay dues to the Communication Workers of America Local 4502 as part of her job with the city of Columbus, but attempted to sever ties after the Supreme Court declared mandatory dues payments unconstitutional in the 2018 Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ruling. The union has maintained that workers should not be allowed to leave the union until its contract with the city expires in 2020. The lawsuit filed by Pennington seeks to overturn that policy and allow the union's 1,400 government workers to exercise their rights immediately, rather than waiting for the 30-day withdrawal window specified in the city's union contract.

"It impinges upon employees' First Amendment rights by compelling employees, who do not or no longer want to subsidize CWA's speech, to subsidize that speech," the suit says. "Pennington and Class Members are suffering the irreparable harm and injury inherent in a violation of First Amendment rights, for which there is no adequate remedy at law."

The union did not return request for comment.

The union responded to Pennington's initial withdrawal request in an August 2018 letter. CWA warned her that "if you resign now the obligation to pay dues would remain in effect." After reiterating her wish to cut all membership and financial ties, the union honored her request in September, but noted that she "remains obligated to pay dues." It has maintained this position despite Pennington and her attorneys' repeated attempts to cease payments.

CWA is not the only labor organization that has been accused of refusing to honor resignations in the wake of the Janus decision. Class action suits have been filed in Oregon and California alleging that local unions continue to take money out of the paychecks of government workers who resigned their membership. Government workers in nearly a dozen other states are also suing labor representatives to recover back wages lost to forced dues and fee payments over the years.

The suit was filed with legal help from the National Right to Work Foundation, which argued the Janus case before the Supreme Court. The group's president, Mark Mix, said that vigilance is required to ensure that unions abide by the decision. The Foundation has filed hundreds of suit over the years to help workers in right to work states escape coercive dues schemes and arbitrary limits on ending dues payments, such as narrow withdrawal windows. He expects labor organizations to continue to push the limits on forced membership.

"Ms. Pennington joins many other public sector workers across the country in standing up to Big Labor's coercion," he said in a statement. "Union officials have a long history of creating obstacles such as 'escape period' schemes, arbitrary union-enacted limitations trapping workers into forced dues."

The suit asks the union to reimburse all dues money to objectors and others who have attempted to resign, as well as pay for legal costs associated with the suit.

Published under: Ohio , Unions