Two class action lawsuits challenging “escape period” schemes imposed by union officials on public sector employees are fully briefed at the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuits were brought by public school educators in Illinois and New Jersey with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Yesterday Foundation attorneys filed their final briefs, and both cases were scheduled for consideration at the Court’s October 29th conference.
Chicago Public Schools educators Joanne Troesch and Ifeoma Nkemdi sued the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Board of Education over a union boss-created “escape period” scheme that blocks workers from exercising their right to terminate union dues deductions from their paychecks outside the month of August. New Jersey teachers Susan Fischer and Jeanette Speck sued the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) union for restricting when teachers can stop dues deductions and challenged a New Jersey statute that restricts the exercise of employees’ Janus rights to just 10 days, less than 3% of the year.
The Supreme Court ruled in its 2018 Janus decision that employees of state and local governments cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees, and that government workers must affirmatively consent before union dues are taken from their paychecks.
In Nkemdi and Troesch’s lawsuit, the Chicago educators explain they “did not know they had a constitutional right not to financially support” the union hierarchy until the fall of 2019, when they discovered their Janus rights while looking for information on how to continue working during a strike that CTU bosses ordered that October. They sent letters the same month to CTU officials to exercise their Janus right to resign union membership and cut off all dues deductions.
Both educators received no response until November of that year, when CTU officials confirmed receipt of the letters but said that they would continue to seize dues from the teachers’ paychecks “until September 1, 2020,” as allowed by the union’s “escape period” scheme. Troesch and Nkemdi demanded in their lawsuit that CTU union officials and the Board of Education stop enforcing the “escape period,” notify all bargaining unit employees that they can end dues deductions any time, and permit bargaining unit employees to claim back dues that were seized without their consent. Troesch and Nkemdi’s petition for Supreme Court review received amicus support from 16 state Attorneys General and seven public policy groups.
Fischer and Speck, who both worked in Ocean Township, NJ, attempted to exercise their Janus rights in July 2018, just a month after the High Court handed down the Janus decision. But Township officials told the teachers they could only stop payments and withdraw their memberships during an annual 10-day window. Unbeknownst to them, union partisans in the New Jersey legislature had actually established that “escape period” by law in May 2018 in an apparent attempt to undermine the pending Janus decision.
Fischer and Speck’s suit argued that because the Janus ruling affirmed public employees’ First Amendment right not to financially support union activities, the New Jersey law is unconstitutional and must be nixed. In addition to eliminating the “escape period” scheme, they seek a refund of membership dues for themselves and all other public employees who were blocked by NJEA officials from stopping dues deductions following Janus.
“Union-created ‘escape periods’ are a deliberate attack on the First Amendment right of public employees to stop funding government union bosses’ speech which was recognized in the Supreme Court’s Janus decision,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix. “Escape periods are one of the many ways union bosses try to keep workers paying dues without the trouble of attracting their voluntary support. The Supreme Court should take up this issue and end these widespread schemes to circumvent the Court’s Janus decision.”