Employee asserts that NJ law’s tiny “escape period” to stop dues deductions violates rights under Janus Supreme Court decision
Trenton, NJ (April 28, 2021) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Heather Anderson, an employee of the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, is suing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 33 union and the State of New Jersey for illegally restricting her and her coworkers’ First Amendment right to stop union dues deductions from their paychecks.
The class-action civil rights lawsuit was filed today in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey and challenges a New Jersey law that forbids workers from ending financial support for the union except during a tiny 10-day “escape period” once per year. Anderson’s suit says the state-enforced restriction, which union officials endorsed in their contract with the state, violates her and her coworkers’ rights under the Foundation-won 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In Janus, the High Court ruled that no public employee can be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of getting or keeping a job. The Court also held that union dues or fees can only be deducted from a public employee’s paycheck if that employee clearly and affirmatively waives their right not to pay. Justice Alito wrote for the Court majority that “such a waiver cannot be presumed” by union or state officials.
Anderson is challenging New Jersey’s so-called “Workplace Democracy Act” (WDEA), which mandates 10-day “escape periods.” The WDEA was passed only months before the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Janus, seemingly in a preemptive attempt by union-allied legislators to limit any rights the Court recognized in Janus to cut off union financial support.
According to her lawsuit, Anderson exercised her Janus rights in February of this year when she informed IBEW union bosses that she wished to terminate dues payments. New Jersey officials rebuffed her request, claiming it could only be accepted if she submitted it within an “escape period” that would not begin until August, and that the state would continue to seize dues from her paycheck until that time. The “escape period” was not mentioned in any dues checkoff authorization card she signed, according to her lawsuit.
Anderson’s lawsuit asks the federal District Court to declare the WDEA’s “escape period” scheme unconstitutional, and seeks refunds of all dues seized from her paycheck in violation of Janus after she invoked her rights.
Across the country, Foundation staff attorneys are currently representing public servants in more than a dozen cases where union officials have tried to confine their First Amendment Janus rights to an “escape period,” and have favorably settled 8 such cases. The pending cases include that of New Jersey public school teachers Susan Fischer and Jeanette Speck, who were trapped in a similar arrangement by New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) union officials.
“The ruling in the Janus decision was crystal clear: public servants have a First Amendment right to refuse to associate with union bosses whose so-called ‘representation’ they oppose,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “It is blatantly unconstitutional that the WDEA prevents public workers from exercising their constitutional right for more than 97 percent of the year.”
If you have questions about whether union officials are violating your rights, contact the Foundation for free help.
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