A workers’ rights group is suing an Ohio public union, claiming it is unconstitutionally preventing members from leaving and opting out of paying dues.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW) filed its lawsuit against the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) Tuesday. OAPSE allows union members to opt out of joining during a 10-day period that occurs only once every few years. Failing to opt out during this time frame locks a worker into paying union dues until the next window arrives, according to the lawsuit.
NRTW claims this policy violates the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, in which the court ruled that forcing government workers to pay union dues as a requirement of employment violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and association. NRTW and Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center lawyers successfully argued the Janus case. OAPSE is a subsidiary of AFSCME.
The foundation is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of Donna Fizer, a school bus driver for Ripley Union Lewis Huntington School District. Fizer wants to immediately opt out of her union dues even though the window has passed.
“Contrary to the wishes of union bosses, their concocted ‘escape period’ schemes cannot limit public employees’ First Amendment rights to just a few days every few years,” NRTW President Mark Mix said in a news release. “OAPSE union officials are ignoring the Janus decision so they can greedily continue siphoning off Fizer’s hard-earned money. The Foundation is proud to stand with Donna Fizer and countless other public employees in dozens of cases all across the country who are fighting to force union bosses to respect their First Amendment Janus rights.”
The attorneys argue that under Janus, a union can only collect dues from a person if that person has affirmatively waived their First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing the union’s speech. However, Fizer was never notified of her rights, which the lawyers argue means that she could not have voluntarily waived them.
Patrick Semmens, a vice president for NRTW, told The Center Square via email that unions are using this escape period tactic to force people to pay union dues when they want to opt out.
“This tactic is being used by union bosses coast-to-coast to attempt to block workers from exercising their First Amendment rights,” Semmens said. “Essentially Big Labor is claiming the power to limit workers’ constitutional rights to just a few days each year, or in some cases every few years. The Foundation is currently litigating over a dozen cases challenging window periods or similar schemes across the country.”
NRTW and other groups have initiated post-Janus lawsuits against unions who they say are violating the new standard. There has not yet been any clear precedent set on escape periods.
AFSCME did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.