Connecting state and local government leaders

Federal Judge is Latest to Toss Lawsuit Seeking Union Fee Refunds

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Across the country, unions have been able to argue they were following laws in place when they were collecting "agency" and "fair-share" fees, prior to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling.

Public workers aren’t having much success suing to claw back fees that they paid to unions before the U.S. Supreme Court last year declared the pay deductions unconstitutional.

A federal judge in New Hampshire tossed another one of the cases this week. The union faced with the lawsuit noted in a late April court filing that in at least 11 other similar cases, courts have in recent months rejected attempts by workers to secure refunds of the fees.

These legal disputes have unfolded in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31.

In that case, the Supreme Court held that state and local public workers who choose not to join a union that represents the workforce they’re apart of cannot be forced to pay "fair-share" or “agency” fees.

The fees were meant to help defray the union’s costs for collective bargaining and other operational expenses, but were not supposed to go toward political activities.

Two state workers in New Hampshire, one in the Department of Transportation and another in the Department of Information Technology, sued SEIU Local 1984 in January seeking to have the lawsuit certified as a class action covering others who’d paid the fees.

The workers received legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a group that is regularly at odds with public sector unions in court fights.

In the New Hampshire case, the two sides did not disagree that the fees are now illegal. They were arguing over whether workers should be able to recover fees paid prior to the Janus ruling.

Like other labor groups fending off these sorts of lawsuits, the union cited a legal principle known as the “good-faith defense,” which is grounded in the notion that parties are shielded from liability for past actions that were in compliance with the law as it stood at that time.

District Judge Paul J. Barbadoro on Thursday granted the union’s motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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