(The Center Square) – A New York state public employee has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming a union continues to take dues from her paycheck even though she resigned her membership more than five months ago.
The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in New York.
Dolly Bernard filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in New York’s Northern District. She works for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services as a contract management specialist in the Office for Victim Services.
On Aug. 15, Bernard said she tendered her resignation from the Public Employees Federation (PEF), which is the union representing state workers. She also claims to have sent the notice to the New York State Comptroller’s office, which is responsible for processing payroll and deductions.
Since then, though, Bernard said no one from the union or state has recognized her decision. In addition, union dues continue to be deducted from her paychecks.
The Fairness Center, a nonprofit public-interest law firm, filed the suit on Bernard’s behalf and is representing her. In a statement, Nathan McGrath, the firm’s president, criticized PEF and state officials for not abiding by her request.
“This violates our client’s constitutional rights of free speech and association,” he said. “Public employees should not have to file a federal lawsuit just to protect their basic rights."
Bernard seeks an injunction against the state and PEF keeping them from taking dues from her check as well as “nominal and compensatory damages” and attorney costs.
Besides PEF, the suit lists State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Michael Volforte, who serves as the Director of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, as defendants in the case.
PEF, which represents more than 50,000 employees in New York, told The Center Square Friday it did not have any comment on the lawsuit.
The case comes as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 ruling in 2018. In Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, the court declared public workers who resigned their union membership had the right to not pay dues as a requirement of their employment.
AFSCME claimed the lawsuit was an attack on government workers from outside interests seeking to defund their labor organizations. The union also said it essentially enforced right-to-work laws at the public sector level nationwide.
While McGrath and Danielle Susanj, senior litigation counsel for the center, told The Center Square they believe there may be other public sector unions in New York that have continued to take dues from individuals who have resigned their union members, they do not anticipate other state workers joining her case.
“An employee who is faced with a union that is refusing to recognize their membership resignation could consider contacting a lawyer for advice,” they said in an email. “The Fairness Center has represented many public employees in similar situations.”
The Fairness Center has worked with state employees in Pennsylvania to receive settlements from such unions as AFSCME and the United Food and Commercial Workers that continued to withhold dues from state workers who resigned their membership.
Neither PEF nor the state has responded to the complaint in court.