A group of Camden-area drivers for the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) is suing union officials in federal court for seizing money from their paychecks in violation of the First Amendment. The drivers are receiving free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.

The drivers argue that bosses of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 196 (IFPTE) union are violating their First Amendment rights recognized in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision.

In Janus, the Court declared it a First Amendment violation to force public sector workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. It also ruled that union officials can only deduct dues from the paycheck of a public sector employee who has voluntarily waived his or her Janus rights. The plaintiffs, Tyron Foxworth, Doris Hamilton, Karen Burdett, Karen Hairston, Ted Lively, Arlene Gibson, and Stanley Burke say union officials continue to take dues from them over their objections and in violation of their legal rights recognized in the Janus decision.

The federal civil rights lawsuit says the drivers signed forms that said employees could request a stop to dues deductions, but that such a request wouldn’t be effective until either the January or July following the request. The lawsuit notes that currently union officials are ignoring those terms of the dues deduction card and continue to deduct money over the drivers’ objections.

IFPTE Officials Subjected Drivers to Restrictions They Never Knew About, Seized Their Money After Drivers Requested Stop

All of the plaintiffs submitted letters to SJTA officials between October and November 2021 requesting deductions for IFPTE dues cease, expecting the deductions to stop in January 2022. But, the lawsuit notes, “each Plaintiff had union dues seized from their wages after January 1, 2022 despite providing a notice of withdrawal prior to that date.”

The IFPTE’s monopoly bargaining contract with SJTA restricts workers’ dues revocation requests to only January, in contradiction to the cards the drivers signed. Union officials never informed the drivers of this restriction or asked for their consent to it.

Drivers Seek Return of Dues Union Seized Unconstitutionally

Foundation attorneys argue in Foxworth and his colleagues’ lawsuit that IFPTE union officials, by taking union dues after January 1, 2022 without the workers’ consent, “violate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to free speech and association.” The drivers seek to make union officials permanently stop deducting dues from their wages, and return all dues already taken from their paychecks illegally.

“IFPTE officials are demonstrating they clearly value union dues revenue over the rights of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’ Not only are those officials rebuffing clear notice from workers that they no longer want to support the union’s activities, but they’re enforcing a more restrictive dues policy about which workers had absolutely no knowledge,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Janus was unambiguous: A worker’s affirmative consent is required for any kind of dues deductions to occur. That standard was clearly not met here.”

“Foundation attorneys are proud to stand with public employees who fight for their First Amendment right to free association, even in the face of union coercion,” Mix added.

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