Labor & Employment Law

Lawsuit to claw back union dues filed after Janus decision

  • Print


Seven California teachers have filed a class action lawsuit to win back paid union fees in light of last month's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that nonconsenting public-sector employees cannot be compelled to pay union dues.

The Recorder reported Tuesday that attorney John Bursch of Bursch Law in Grand Rapids, Michigan has filed nearly two-dozen such cases throughout the country in light of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME. “The lawsuit we filed is a refund of the fees that were illegally extracted,” Bursch told the Recorder. He also told the Recorder that some of his lawsuits predated the Janus decision.

In fact, for four of the California teachers involved with the purported class action, this is not their first fight against union dues. In 2016, their case went up to the Supreme Court, which split 4-4 after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and did not issue a ruling.

In Janus, the court overturned a 1977 opinion by determining it was a violation of the First Amendment to require dues from members who disagreed with their public-sector union.

The ruling will affect 22 states that allowed for mandatory union dues. The other 28 states, known as “right to work” states, had previously passed laws banning the practice.

Regarding the newly filed lawsuit, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Recorder that Janus does not require the retroactive repayment of union dues.

“As we have said repeatedly, these efforts by right-wing forces to weaponize the First Amendment and overrule 40 years of precedent—through a 5-4 decision in Janus—are intended to defund unions by starving them of the resources they need to secure a pathway to the middle class and a voice at work for working people,” said Weingarten. “The AFT and its affiliates are taking great care to comply with the Janus decision, regardless of how wrongheaded we think it is.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 11 percent of American workers belonged to a union in 2017, nearly half of what it was in 1983, when a comparable data point was first collected.

While the California lawsuit is an indication of what is to come for unions, the future won’t be without a fight, Steven Suflas, a partner at Ballard Spahr, told the New Jersey Law Journal.

“They have not been sleeping on this issue,” Suflas said. “It’s going to be old-fashioned union block walking and tackling the fundamentals.”

However, he expects the diminished ability to collect dues to lead to less lobbying and political influence.

Echoing this point, Mark Neuberger, partner at Foley & Lardner, in a statement that: “On a grander scale, for good or for worse, this decision will lead to a further decline in the percentage of the American workforce that is unionized”.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.