Seven California teachers believe teacher unions violated their constitutional rights by forcing them to pay union fees, so they have filed a class-action lawsuit trying to recoup their money.
The July 3 lawsuit comes after the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in the Janus v. AFSCME 31 case making it unconstitutional under the First Amendment to use compulsory agency fees for public employees.
If the lawsuit is successful, the plaintiffs want to “refund all fair-share service fees or agency fees unlawfully withheld or collected” from them.
Plaintiffs believe the union fees violated their First Amendment free speech rights by forcing them to “subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern,” according to the lawsuit.
“The teachers are asking the unions, which took all that money, to give their hard-earned money,” said John Bursch, a lawyer who helped file the lawsuit. Bursch added that the teachers are asking for three years of refunds from the teacher unions.
Nat Malkus, the deputy director of education policy studies at American Enterprise Institute, thinks this case is not a First Amendment issue, but rather a contractual law issue.
“At the time, everyone was applying with the law. To make this ruling retroactive, it would be extremely disruptive,” Malkus said. Bursch said this case is about the First Amendment and not contractual law.
“If you were a teacher in California, you could not be employed as a teacher with a public school unless you signed one of these contracts,” Bursch said. “That is what makes it a constitutional problem, rather than a contractual problem.”
The lawsuit wants the court to address three questions. First, it wants it to answer whether fair share service or agency fees are constitutional. Next, if withholding fair share service or agency fees is a California tort law. Finally, it asks if defendants can refund fair share service fees.
Scott Wilford, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told edweek.org that “this lawsuit will enable teachers like me to recover the agency fees that we were wrongly forced to pay against our will.”
Four plaintiffs in the lawsuit acted as plaintiffs in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case that went to the Supreme Court. The case, however, remained unresolved because the Court ruled 4–4 on it.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a statement on July 1 after the Janus ruling saying “that right-wing groups have been waging war against public sector unions for many years.” Also, he said this case was about “stripping unions of resources” and “eradicating labor unions.”
“This isn’t an attempt to break a union. It is simply an attempt to give the money back to the people who deserve to have it,” Bursch said.
The Daily Caller contacted the National Education Association, California Teachers Association and AFT, but did not hear back from these teacher unions in time for publication.