Several Midwestern organizations are raising awareness about public employee rights, and two have sued in the wake of alleged violations of the 2018 Supreme Court's Janus vs. AFSCME ruling.
The Buckeye Institute was the first organization to file lawsuits on behalf of state employees to end the practice of compelled exclusive union representation. After the Janus ruling, the institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Professor Kathy Uradnik in Minnesota, Jade Thompson in Ohio, and Jonathan Reisman in Maine.
A new non-profit public interest law firm, the Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC), is also challenging the union membership and continued dues deductions by Teamsters Local 320 of Laura Loescher, who manages the Scandia Elementary School site in the Forest Lake Public School District.
Kathy Uradnik's case was originally filed on July 6, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. On Dec. 4, 2018, the Buckeye Institute filed a petition in Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Organization with the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied on April 29, 2019.
“For too long, Professor Kathy Uradnik has been forced to speak through a union that advocates against her interests," Robert Alt, president and CEO of the Buckeye Institute and a lead attorney on the case, said. By doing so, they are violating her First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.
The Supreme Court’s denial “has given us another opportunity to seek justice by sending it back to the U.S. District Court, where the Buckeye Institute will continue to fight relentlessly on Kathy's behalf,” Alt added.
In a video produced by the Buckeye Institute, Uradnik says she has “principled reasons for not wanting to join the union and thankfully the Constitution gives me that choice.”
Uradnik, whose been employed by St. Clout State University for 20 years, says her refusal to join the union came at a high cost.
“I quickly found out that as a non-union member I was not allowed to serve on any committees," she said. "That’s actually written into our employment contract, and that’s just not right.
“After 20 years I’ve served on zero committees solely because I’m a non-union member, and that’s really sad,” she continued. “I think my students could have benefitted from my participation and my desire to see them have a better experience here.”
Along with St. Cloud State University, the state of Minnesota University System’s contract with the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO) prevents non-union faculty members from serving on any faculty search, service, or governance committees, and from joining the Faculty Senate. The prohibition impairs non-union members’ ability to obtain tenure, advance careers, and fully participate in the academic life, Uradnik says.
In the Janus decision, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that a state’s requirement that a union must serve as public workers’ exclusive bargaining agent is a “significant impingement on associational freedoms that would not be tolerated in other contexts.”
Despite this, Minnesota’s fiscal conservative think tank, the Center of the American Experiment, says, “Minnesota’s public unions are deliberately creating obstacles for union members who wish to resign from union membership. And public employers are complicit because they are honoring union dues-authorization cards that were invalidated by the Supreme Court.”
The center created EmployeeFreedomMN.com as part of its awareness campaign to help public employees make educated decisions about their union membership. The website answers frequently asked questions about Janus in addition to providing practical information like how to find their union card, and learning what types of representation to which non-union members are entitled after they resign their membership. The site also simplifies the process to leave government unions.
“If you’re trying to exercise your right to resign from your workplace union but you have no idea where to start, or you feel the union is putting undue burdens on you, we can help,” Kim Crockett, vice president at the center, said. “The state of Minnesota is not telling employees about their rights or requiring the written consent employers need before deducting union dues. We hope our efforts will change that in the near future.”
Loescher tried to resign from the union after Janus but she said it refused to recognize her resignation. Instead, it insisted that her employer continue to deduct union dues from her paycheck, and stripped her of her ability to participate in contract ratification and other union activities, despite the fact that she remains a union member.
“All I ask is that I’m treated fairly in accordance with the law,” she said. “My right to free speech guarantees my right to resign from the union, and I shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to exercise that fundamental right.”
Doug Seaton, vice president of UMLC, said the firm would also help other public employees “who come forward wanting to exercise their rights to free speech.”