Connecticut Professor Gets His Due: $5,000 in Dues Refunded

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Another Janus  Victory and another blow to forced unionism.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys have secured a victory for a University of Connecticut School of Business professor who filed a lawsuit in January seeking the return of forced union fees seized from him by union officials in violation of his First Amendment rights.

Under the settlement, the American Association of University Professors union (AAUP) has returned $5,251.48 in unlawfully obtained union fees to accounting professor Steven Utke. Union officials were forced to settle because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, a 2018 Foundation-won case that found that any mandatory union payments taken from public employees without their consent violate their First Amendment constitutional rights.

Since Utke was hired by the university in 2015, AAUP, which has monopoly bargaining powers over all professors, including those opposed to union representation, deducted fees from Utke’s paycheck. Utke was not a member of the AAUP, and further never consented to have the money deducted from his paycheck.

Eventually Utke, with free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for Connecticut on January 14, 2019, on the grounds that AAUP officials had infringed his First Amendment rights. The suit cited the Janus v. AFSCME decision, which declared that forced fees for government employees constitute coerced speech and are thus unconstitutional.

Janus v. AFSCME, which was decided in June of 2018, overturned the wrongly-decided 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public-sector workers could be compelled as a condition of employment to pay union fees for bargaining-related purposes. In Janus, the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to require government workers to pay any union dues or fees as a condition of employment, because bargaining with the government is political. Additionally, the Court clarified that no union dues or fees can be taken from workers without their affirmative consent and knowing waiver of their First Amendment right not to financially support a labor union.

Rather than face Foundation staff attorneys in court, AAUP backed down and settled the case earlier this month. Now, as stipulated by the terms of the settlement, AAUP officials have returned to Utke almost four years of union fees seized in violation of his rights plus interest. They further pledged not to collect any dues or fees from Utke’s future wages unless he affirmatively chooses to become a member of AAUP and authorizes such deductions.

“Steven Utke joins the growing ranks of workers across the country who, citing the Janusprecedent, are receiving refunds for the forced union fees seized from them by greedy union officials in violation of the First Amendment,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Unfortunately, tens of thousands of other public employees are still waiting for the refunds they should get, with Foundation staff attorneys continuing to litigate numerous such cases.”

Foundation staff attorneys secured the first-in-the-nation refund of forced union dues after Janus for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee Debora Nearman, and subsequently have won similar refunds for public employees elsewhere.

The Foundation has created a special website, MyJanusRights.org, to assist public employees in exercising their rights under Janus, which was successfully argued by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorney William Messenger.