- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Nineteen public sector employees in Maryland filed a class action against their labor union this week, demanding a refund for dues they were forced to pay before the Supreme Court outlawed the mandatory fees last year.

The employees, who work for counties and the state, argue they are entitled to backpay from the money the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees took from their paychecks since 2016. That’s as far back as Maryland’s statute of limitations allows them to reclaim money.

According to the Liberty Justice Center, which is representing the workers, nearly 10,000 state employees could collect about $7 million from AFSCME if the court rules in their favor.

“For years, thousands of employees for the state of Maryland faced an unconstitutional situation: Pay the union or lose your job. But in 2018, the Supreme Court was very clear that these mandatory union fees violated the U.S. Constitution,” said Patrick Hughes, president of the Liberty Justice Center.

The high court ruled in 2018 mandatory union fees run afoul of the First Amendment’s rights of free speech and association, since the fees were spent on advocating for things such as larger public workforces that are inherently political and with which some members might disagree.

The holding upset more than 40 years of precedent that had previously allowed the dues for public sector unions.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday is just one of several currently pending throughout the country, trying to win refunds from unions. Mr. Hughes’ organization has similar lawsuits pending in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.

“We expect the district courts to rule on all these cases within the next year,” Brian Kelsey, an attorney also representing the Maryland workers, told The Washington Times.

Mark Janus, the man who spearheaded last year’s lawsuit at the Supreme Court, has also sued as an individual trying to collect his backpay, which is about $3,000. A district court judge ruled against him, but he’s appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court will hear oral arguments later this month.

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, called the lawsuit “frivolous,” saying it was an attempt to undermine public service workers’ rights and freedoms.

“Since Janus was decided in 2018, the Liberty Justice Center and their ilk have filed hundreds of similar cases; all of them have failed. Meanwhile, public service workers remain committed to their union. And with support for unions at a near 50-year high and nearly half of nonunionized workers saying they would join a union if they could, it’s clear that more Americans want the freedom to join unions, and these organizations are trying to rob us of that freedom,” Mr. Moran said.

The employees involved in the Maryland lawsuit were forced to pay an average of $400 a year in the dues.

Charles Craver, a law professor at George Washington University, said he thinks the state workers may be able to collect money back from dues paid after the high court ruled for Mr. Janus last summer.

“I am not as confident that they could obtain refunds for dues paid prior to that decision given the fact that such dues payments were completely lawful under prior Supreme Court decisions,” he said.

Marley Weiss, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said she predicts the court won’t certify a class action, which means the case will only involve a limited number of employees.

“If the case is not certified as a class action, it will have little impact and may well be settled,” she said.

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