Educators submitted amicus brief in similar case before SCOTUS challenging “escape period” which curtails right to refrain from dues
Chicago, IL (March 25, 2021) – Two Chicago Public Schools (CPS) educators are appealing to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals their class-action civil rights lawsuit charging the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with illegal dues seizures.
The suit challenges a union policy that blocks teachers from exercising their First Amendment right to stop payments to the union outside of the month of August.
The lawsuit seeks refunds of all dues seized from dissenting teachers by the Chicago Board of Education under the policy. The Board enforces the arrangement at the behest of the CTU union and is also named as a defendant.
The educators, Jones College Prep Tech Coordinator Joanne Troesch and Newberry Math and Science Academy second-grade teacher Ifeoma Nkemdi, are receiving free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys. The lawsuit contends that the dues scheme perpetrated by CTU officials violates the First Amendment protections laid out in the Foundation-won 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The appeal comes shortly after Troesch, Nkemdi, and other public employees submitted an amicus brief in Belgau v. Inslee, which is currently pending on a petition for certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court. That class-action suit involves a group of Washington State employees, led by Melissa Belgau, who are fighting similar policies imposed by Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) union officials and the State of Washington.
In Janus, which was argued by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorney William Messenger, the High Court struck down mandatory union fees as a violation of the First Amendment rights of government employees. The Court ruled that taking any dues without a government worker’s affirmative consent violates the First Amendment, and further made it clear that these rights cannot be restricted absent a clear and knowing waiver. Messenger is on Troesch and Nkemdi’s legal team.
Troesch and Nkemdi’s lawsuit explains that they “did not know they had a constitutional right not to financially support” the union hierarchy until the fall of 2019. The pair independently discovered their First Amendment Janus rights while they were researching how to exercise their right to continue working during a strike that CTU bosses ordered in October 2019, the lawsuit notes. They sent letters the same month to CTU officials to exercise their Janus right to resign union membership and cut off all dues deductions.
Both educators received no response until November of that year, when CTU officials confirmed receipt of the letters but said that they would continue to seize dues from the teachers’ paychecks “until September 1, 2020.” CTU bosses relied on the fact that Troesch and Nkemdi had not submitted their letters within a union boss-created “escape period,” which limits when teachers can exercise their First Amendment right to end dues deductions.
Troesch and Nkemdi contend that CTU officials’ attempt to curb employees’ right to stop dues deductions with an “escape period” and the Board’s continued dues seizures both violate the First Amendment. Their lawsuit seeks to make the CTU union and the Board of Education stop enforcing the “escape period,” and notify all bargaining unit employees that they can end the deduction of union dues at any time and “retroactively exercise that right.”
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed Troesch and Nkemdi’s lawsuit on February 25, 2021. The court ruled that CTU officials didn’t violate Janus by forbidding the two educators from exercising their First Amendment right to cut off union dues except for one month a year. This prompted Foundation attorneys to appeal the case to the Seventh Circuit for the educators.
Foundation staff attorneys in December 2020 filed a similar lawsuit for University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System employee Johnathan Shepard, who is challenging an “escape period” foisted on him and his coworkers by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 bosses. Across the country, Foundation staff attorneys represent public servants in at least 14 cases where union officials have tried to confine their First Amendment Janus rights to an “escape period.”
“Each day that the courts refuse to uphold the clear logic of Janus is another day that union bosses are allowed to hold onto the hard-earned money of dissenting public servants in clear violation of their First Amendment rights,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to stand with Ms. Troesch and Ms. Nkemdi, and will continue to defend all educators who simply want to serve their students and community without being forced to subsidize union activities.”