For now, public sector unions don’t have to return money they collected from workers under a now prohibited system that allowed them for decades to charge fees to workers who did not want to join them.
A federal judge in Washington state this week dismissed a lawsuit that asked the Washington Federation of State Employees to reimburse so-called “fair share” fees to a group of workers who did not want to participate in the union but were compelled to pay the charges. The case will likely be appealed.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June issued a 5-4 decision that banned public sector unions from collecting any kind of fee from workers who do not choose to join them.
Since then, the attorneys behind the Washington case have filed lawsuits all over the country demanding that unions give money back to workers who did not want to participate in labor organizations, or who joined them only because they felt that no other option.
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Jonathan Mitchell, a former Texas solicitor general, filed the Washington state case with help from the libertarian advocacy group the Freedom Foundation. He’s also suing California branches of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Service Employees International Union and the California State Law Enforcement Association.
The case named two state workers from Pierce County and one from Yakima County. The Washington Federation of State Employees is affiliated with AFSCME and represents about 35,000 state workers.
Maxford Nelsom, the Freedom Foundation’s director of labor policy, said they probably will appeal the decision.
“We remain committed to getting WFSE and AFSCME to make state workers whole for the money these unions have seized from employees’ wages against their will for so long,” he wrote in an email.
Mitchell filed the Washington state case in March, a few months before the Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME. He argued that other recent Supreme Court decisions had demonstrated that the fees violated the First Amendment rights of public sector employees and should be returned to workers who paid them.
Robert Bryan, the judge who heard the case in the U.S. district court in Tacoma, dismissed the lawsuit and held that unions collected the fees in good faith and in accordance with state and federal laws. Further, Bryan noted that Washington state government stopped deducting fair share fees after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Janus vs. AFSCME.
“The union defendant followed the law, and could not reasonably anticipate that a Supreme Court action would create a constitutional challenge to its actions. The union defendant’s actions were authorized by the law and the State of Washington, and the actions of the State were apparently lawful,” Bryan wrote.
Representatives for public sector unions in California were following the lawsuit and in updates to their members wrote that they expect it to be appealed.
“The facts and the law have always been on our side, and despite these repeated attacks, we will never quit fighting to make our communities stronger in Washington and across the country,” Lee Saunders, AFSCME’s national president, said in a written statement celebrating the ruling.