November 18, 2019
The Center Square
Seven current and former Pennsylvania state employees have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to get back dues they claim they were forced to pay to a union that did not represent them.
If they’re successful, approximately 10,000 people could end up getting $3 million back.
The lawsuit was filed this month in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Middle District Court by the Liberty Justice Center, a nonpartisan “litigation center” that seeks to protect the right to work or create a business for anyone, and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
One of the plaintiffs in the case is David Schaszberger. He served as a statistical analyst for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry for a decade but voluntarily chose not to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13, the local union representing more than 65,000 public-sector workers.
The Liberty Justice Center estimates Schaszberger had to pay the union more than $4,000 in order to hold his job.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, an Illinois case filed by the same groups, that overturned the practice of public-sector unions collecting what they called “fair share” fees from workers who opted not to join. The unions maintained the fees were necessary to cover the costs of negotiating collective bargaining agreements, which covered both union and nonunion employees alike.
“The Supreme Court has already decided with us and with the workers,” said Brian Kelsey, a Liberty Justice Center senior attorney. “Now we’re just asking the courts to make the union pay up for what they took.”
In the 5-4 decision, the nation’s top court ruled such forced payments violate a public-sector employee’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
“Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.
Kelsey said the now-illegal practice was the exact opposite of the right-to-work law the groups support. Right-to-work laws allow individuals to work in public jobs and receive the same benefits as union workers but without paying dues to the labor organization representing the workers.
Pennsylvania is one of 23 states that does not have a right-to-work law on its books.
The Pennsylvania workers’ lawsuit seeks a refund of the “fair share” fees nonunion employees paid between Nov. 7, 2017, and June 27, 2018. Dues paid prior to that cannot be collected because of the statute of limitations.
They are also seeking to make this a class-action lawsuit.
A message to AFSCME Council 13 Executive Director David Fillman was not returned.
However, in a statement after the lawsuit was filed, Fillman criticized the case, saying it was supported by “dark money” special-interest groups.
“We will combat this attack on the workers who keep our commonwealth operating just as we have always done,” he said. “Liberty Justice Center poses as helping public employees; however, their goal is to eliminate public sector employee protections altogether.”
Kelsey denied the assertion this and similar cases are an attempt to eradicate unions.
“What we’re doing is we’re representing workers, and in particular, we’re representing workers who had their rights abused by unions,” he said. “And it’s time for the unions to pay this money back that they unconstitutionally took.”
This is one of two such cases that the center and foundation have filed in Pennsylvania. The other involves state workers seeking repayment from a Service Employees International Union local chapter.
Similar lawsuits have also been filed in Maryland and Illinois.
“We plan to file more,” added Kelsey, who also said he expects the AFSCME case to eventually go before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.