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Janus Class Action Would Cost Unions Millions

Trump made it illegal to sue your employer as a group, but this case may make it legal for groups to sue a union

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jul 02, 2018

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that charging non-members agency fees was a violation of the first amendment. While the decision will mean millions of dollars will be lost without these agency fees, the Supreme Court also signaled that those paying the fees might have some recourse to get their money back.

In 2017, a group of home healthcare workers in Illinois filed a lawsuit against SEIU attempting to recuperate agency fees that they had paid to the union. The judge in the case, which is supported by Illinois’ anti-union Governor Bruce Rauner and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, said that the workers could not file the case as a class action lawsuit, but instead as individuals. They appealed to the 7th Circuit, whose three-judge panel unanimously agreed with the lower court. On Thursday though, the Supreme Court threw out this ruling saying that the Janus decision meant that the 7th Circuit should reassess the case.

The non-members of SEIU are trying to collect $32 million in fair share fees that they were charged. Thanks to the Janus decision, the court has said that these fees now violate members free speech rights. “The state’s extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment,” said Justice Samuel Alito in the Janus decision.

If the courts find in favor of the plaintiffs and say that agency fee payers can sue to recoup their fees, public sector unions could be in a lot of trouble. If public employees in Illinois feel they are owed $32 million, then a national lawsuit could result in public sector unions like SEIU, AFSCME and CWA owing hundreds of millions of dollars in back fees. Currently, the case Riffey v. Rauner has a proposed class of 80,000 people.

The decision by the Supreme Court also comes at an interesting time. During the recent term, the Supreme Court not only heard the Janus v. AFSCME case, but they also heard the Epic Systems v Lewis case. In that case, the court decided that companies could use arbitration agreements to prevent employees from banding together and filing a class action lawsuit against their employer. So basically, the Court is saying that it is okay to join and sue your union, but not to sue your employer.

Following Janus, cases like this one will continue to come up. Funded by billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Betsy DeVos, groups like the Right to Work Foundation will continue to find and recruit public employees to file lawsuits against their union to try and further restrict what the union can do. It will also only get worse as the court becomes more conservative and politicians continue to try and push their anti-union agenda. Bills like a national Right to Work law won’t be needed, because the Supreme Court is set on defanging and defunding organized labor and they are using the Constitution to stack the deck against us.

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