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Teachers Challenge Union Opt Out Laws

Two Chicago teachers want to make it easier to leave a union

Kris LaGrange's picture
Sep 13, 2021

While the Supreme Court is still a few weeks from coming back into session, lawyers are hoping that the court will take up an anti-union challenge to membership opt-out periods.

The opt-out periods were created after the Janus decision that made all public employee positions right to work. These periods, which often last between 2 weeks and a month, give a specific time during the year that an employee can notify their employer of their decision to leave the union. When they opt out, dues are no longer taken from their check.

Two Chicago teachers, Joanne Troesch, a technology coordinator in the city’s schools, and Ifeoma Nkemdi, a second-grade teacher, are challenging the legality of these rules. They say that when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in 2019, the two teachers decided to scab and leave the union. While they notified the city, Chicago Public Schools continued to take dues out of their paycheck since the opt-out was not within the designated opt-out period.

The case, Troesch v. Chicago Teachers Union, asks the court to consider whether signing a membership contract sufficiently authorizes the union to continue collecting the dues and whether these opt-out periods violate the courts' previous determination in the Janus decision. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund argues that if an employee misses the opt-out period, the dues become a mandatory subscription fee and that the worker is effectively prohibited from exercising their first amendment right to stop paying dues for between 335-355 days.

While the plaintiffs think they have a strong case, lower courts have disagreed with the 3rd, 7th, 9th and 10th Courts upholding the restrictions as constitutional. However, the plaintiffs hope the more conservative Supreme Court, which has gained Republican votes since the Janus case, will differ and will strike down the new restrictions.

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