The Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision was a landmark in labor law, but now the namesake in the case would like the justices to go further.
The high court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that public-sector employees cannot be forced to pay union dues because it violates their First Amendment rights.
Mark Janus, a former Illinois state employee, asked the justices last week to consider his petition to claw back the dues he paid unwillingly for years before he won his case.
“The Supreme Court agreed that the union taking money from nonmembers was wrong, but the union still has the money it illegally garnished from my paycheck,” he said in a statement. “It’s time for AFSCME to give me back the money they wrongfully took.”
Mr. Janus has lost his reimbursement argument at the district court level and before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel ruled against him last year. He also lost before that appeals court in the original Janus case, only to have the high court overturn its decision.
Now, he’s hoping that track repeats itself, said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents Mr. Janus.
“It was a huge victory in 2018 and what we’re now asking the Supreme Court is to help Mark get his money back,” Mr. Mix said. “If there was a violation of his First Amendment rights, and Janus ruled there was, then he ought to get relief and that is what this is about.”
AFSCME, again the defendant in Mr. Janus’ case, did not respond to a request for comment, but Mr. Mix said the union has successfully employed “a good faith” defense, arguing it was legal at the time it took a portion of Mr. Janus’ paycheck for dues.
“It’s true that we haven’t had a whole lot of success thus far,” Mr. Mix said. “But Supreme Court rulings are considered ‘black letter law,’ in that it is considered statutes should have always been that way.”
Although labor experts expected the Janus decision to damage the finances of public-sector labor unions, the unions insist they have thrived in its aftermath, managing to hold on to most of their members and in some cases expand their rolls or raise dues.
The Janus decision does not apply to private-sector unions, although the Supreme Court has ruled that members can receive a refund on the portion of compulsory dues that unions spend on political activity.
Given that public-sector employees are paid by taxpayers and negotiate with public officials, all of their activity is inherently political, the majority of the Supreme Court ruled in Janus.
A clawback of Mr. Janus’ past dues would be a game-changer, Mr. Mix said.
The money at stake for Mr. Janus is small — about $3,000, which his lawyers say represents the amount “AFSCME seized from his paycheck without his permission from March 23, 2013, to June 27, 2018, representing the two-year statute of limitations from the date his case started in March 2015 through the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in his favor.”
The principle, however, is enormous as the Janus decision affected an estimated 5 million public employees.
“Another favorable ruling in the case could have a massive impact, setting a federal precedent that would be controlling in dozens of other cases seeking refunds of dues taken unlawfully by public-sector union bosses,” said the National Right to Work Foundation.
Mr. Mix said he is involved in or is aware of two class-action suits centered on union dues — one in California and the other in Ohio — that could affect more than 80,000 workers.
About 30 post-Janus cases are in various stages of federal litigation, he said.