A Connecticut professor will recover thousands of dollars that his university's union improperly seized from his paycheck.
The American Association of University Professors union (AAUP) at the University of Connecticut has returned $5,251.48 to Steven Utke under a settlement filed on April 5. The agreement headed off litigation that could have further cemented legal precedent barring labor organizations from continuing to reinforce dues deductions from worker paychecks. AAUP entered into it on the condition that the payment "shall not be considered or construed as an admission of a liability or wrongdoing," while pledging to no longer go after Utke, an accounting professor, for further payments.
"The AAUP agrees that it will neither seek to collect nor accept future dues or fees deducted from the Plaintiff's wages unless he affirmatively chooses to become a member of AAUP and authorizes the deductions," the agreement says.
The union did not respond to request for comment about the suit or settlement.
Utke filed the suit after the Supreme Court declared that public sector agencies could no longer coerce union dues or fee payments from workers as a condition of employment. The Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal that mandatory payments violated the First Amendment rights of government employees. Despite that ruling, AAUP continued to deduct money from Utke's paychecks over his objection since he began teaching at UCONN in 2015.
"Utke objected to paying the Union any fee and never authorized such payments," the complaint filed in January said. "By requiring under color of state law that Utke pay fees to the Union as a condition of employment, the Union violated his First Amendment rights to free speech, petition, and association."
Utke also claimed that the union failed to provide adequate disclosures about the breakdown in spending. He remained an agency fee payer throughout his career at the university, meaning that he was only required to pay partial dues to cover the costs of representation services, while withholding money for political spending. Despite his repeated requests, the union only supplied him with vague spending breakdowns that were not independently vetted by neutral observers.
The notice only includes bare categorization of expenditures. "The Union does not provide a breakdown of its categories of chargeable and nonchargeable expenditures," the complaint said. "The Union simply claims it only spends exactly 1000 (one thousand) dollars, out of its nearly 1.8 million dollar budget on non-chargeable expenditures."
Utke won the settlement with legal assistance from the National Right to Work Foundation, which successfully argued the Janus case before the Supreme Court. Foundation president Mark Mix said that he represents "the growing ranks of workers across the country" that are receiving back payments for coercive dues schemes. The number of cases settled at the state and local level, however, dwarf the number of outstanding and pending cases filed against government agencies and labor organizations.
"Unfortunately, tens of thousands of other public employees are still waiting for the refunds they should get, with foundation staff attorneys continuing to litigate numerous such cases," Mix said in a statement.
Workers have filed class action suits alleging illegal dues deductions in more than a dozen states that have yet to be settled.