The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that public-sector workers couldn’t be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment, and now a group of workers in Illinois is looking to get some of the union dues they had to pay back.
In a federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois, nine state workers who didn’t join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 say they’re owed their dues money back.
The workers are represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit litigation center based in Chicago. If the workers are granted class status, the suit could include 2,700 workers who paid into the union but never joined. A successful class decision against the union could cost it more than $2 million and set the wheels in motion for class-action refunds in other states across the country.
“We’re fighting for these workers because they were put in an unconstitutional situation: Pay the union or lose your job,” said Patrick Hughes, president of the Liberty Justice Center. “Now it’s time for AFSCME to rectify the situation by returning to workers the money they should never have taken in the first place.”
The suit is just one of the reverberations stemming from the historic Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 decision the U.S. Supreme Court handed down in June 2018. Because Illinois’ statute of limitations is two years, the workers are seeking to have their dues from May 1, 2017, to the day of the decision refunded.
In the months after the decision, workers have asked the union pay them back but, Mark Janus, the litigant who brought the case to the nation’s high court and is now an employee of the Liberty Justice Center, has also sought to have his dues from that time period refunded. He’s appealing a district court ruling that found the union didn’t have to refund the money.
“People have asked for them and in some cases, they say ‘yeah, we’ll get them to you’ and then nothing ever happens,” he said.
The Right-to-Work Foundation is also working on the class action suit.
“AFSCME union officials, in this case, stand in utter defiance of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision,” said Mark Mix, the foundation’s president. “This case proves, once again, that union officials will do whatever it takes to keep the coffers brimming with forced dues and fees at the expense of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’”
AFSCME Council 31 officials did not return a message seeking comment. However, the union told the Chicago Tribune that groups like the Liberty Justice Center and Right-to-Work Foundation were being greedy.
“The anti-worker, corporate-funded front groups prolonging this failed litigation want to use the courts to further their political attack on working people and our union. Their repeated lawsuits are nothing but a greedy grab for more,” a union spokesperson said.