Workers’ Health Care Restored After Union Bosses Back Down

Labor execs threatened to withhold benefits to pressure university employees

The University of Puerto Rico / YouTube Screenshot
May 1, 2021

Employees at the University of Puerto Rico triumphed over union officials who allegedly threatened to withhold their health care benefits for opting out of the union.

The workers at the taxpayer-funded university accused the union of refusing to give employees permanent health insurance until they signed union membership cards authorizing the past deduction of membership dues. The union capitulated and allowed the employees to access the health care plans in the face of the legal challenge, which will now continue as the workers try to recover more than a decade's worth of dues seized by the union.

The dispute is one of a number of cases that have been filed since the Supreme Court declared mandatory union membership a violation of the First Amendment. The ability of workers to avoid mandatory union membership could be threatened by the PRO Act, which Democratic lawmakers are aggressively pushing Congress to pass.

Two employees, Jose Ramos and Orlando Méndez, filed a lawsuit against the university and the union in May 2020 citing the Janus Supreme Court ruling that established that public employees cannot be forced to pay membership dues to unions in order to be employed. The complaint sought legal intervention to declare the automatic payment of membership dues to the union unlawful.

"After being notified of Plaintiffs’ written demands to have dues deductions ceased, UPR and the Union nonetheless continued to deduct and collect dues from their wages, in furtherance of dues deduction and maintenance of membership requirements found in the CBA," the complaint stated.

"The Union and UPR violate the First Amendment rights of Ramos, Méndez, and of the proposed class of public sector employees by deducting and collecting money from their wages without their voluntary, intelligent and knowing consent, thereby severely restricting the exercise of their First Amendment right under Janus not to subsidize a labor union."

The University of Puerto Rico Workers Union did not respond to a request for comment. The University of Puerto Rico declined to comment on the situation.

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which filed the motion on behalf of the university workers, said the fight with the union is not over.

"Union officials illegally collected dues from these workers’ paychecks and then doubled down on their coercive tactics by attempting to use their control over the employee health care plan to pressure the workers into signing away their rights," Semmens said. "While we are glad that the threat to these workers’ health care has ended, these workers are still owed over a decade worth of dues seized in violation of the First Amendment."