A Harford County school custodian has forced AFSCME union bosses at her workplace to stop seizing money illegally from her paycheck, including cash taken for the “AFSCME PEOPLE” fund, a Political Action Committee (PAC) that under federal law can only be legally funded through voluntary contributions. The victory comes after she obtained free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, who sent a cease-and-desist letter for her to the AFSCME PAC.
Linda Puto’s efforts have also made AFSCME officials cease all union dues deductions from her wages, as the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision requires. In Janus, the Court held that forcing public sector workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of keeping their jobs violates their First Amendment rights. The Court also ruled that no union monies can be taken from a public employee’s paycheck without a knowing and affirmative waiver of that worker’s First Amendment right not to pay.
Prior to Janus, in states like Maryland that lack Right to Work laws, union bosses could legally extract a portion of union dues even from public workers who choose to refrain from union membership. However, the High Court ruled in Janus that state arrangements permitting union officials to do so force public employees to subsidize the union’s political speech and thus violate the First Amendment.
Federal election law enforced by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) also forbids forced contributions to political committees that support or oppose candidates for federal office. Those who run PACs like AFSCME PEOPLE cannot coerce payments into the fund.
Prior to the cease-and-desist letter, Puto sent two letters to the local AFSCME affiliate to exercise her rights to resign union membership and end all union deductions from her paycheck, one in November 2020 and a second in March 2021. AFSCME union officials ignored both letters and kept illegally seizing both dues money and contributions for the AFSCME PAC.
Finally, National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys mailed a cease-and-desist letter to the AFSCME PEOPLE treasurer in Washington, DC, for Puto in June. It noted that the letter responded to “AFSCME’s and AFSCME PEOPLE’s refusal to honor her First Amendment, federal law, and contractual rights to revoke her PEOPLE contribution deduction at any time.”
The letter demanded, “[t]o avoid litigation over this issue,” that AFSCME officials cease deducting money from Puto’s paycheck for the PEOPLE fund. Additionally, the letter demanded that any money seized for that fund after her original November 2020 letter be immediately paid back to her.
AFSCME and AFSCME PEOPLE officials have now backed down and stopped taking both dues and PAC contributions from Puto, and have also refunded all amounts of both that have been taken from her paycheck since her November demand.
“AFSCME officials brazenly violated Ms. Puto’s legal rights for months on end, ignoring not only her First Amendment rights under Janus, but longstanding law that all PAC contributions – which are used to fund political candidates’ campaigns – be completely voluntary,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Although we are happy that she has secured the return of her money, workers should not have to obtain legal representation just to stop funding Big Labor political activities and contributions to union-label candidates.”