Lawsuit seeks to end scheme that blocks University of Illinois workers from exercising constitutional right to stop union dues deductions
Chicago, IL (December 7, 2020) – With free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, Johnathan Shepard, a mental health counselor working for the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System (UI Health), has filed a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 and the University’s Board of Trustees.
The suit challenges Local 73 union officials’ policy enforced by the University that blocks University employees from exercising their First Amendment right to stop payments to the union outside of a fifteen-day annual “escape period.” The lawsuit seeks refunds of all dues seized as a result of the unconstitutional policy.
The complaint states that SEIU officials and the University of Illinois are breaching the First Amendment protections recognized in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Janus, then-Illinois state employee Mark Janus was represented before the Supreme Court by William Messenger, the veteran Foundation attorney who is also handling Shepard’s case.
In its ruling in Janus, the High Court struck down mandatory union fees as violating the First Amendment rights of government employees. The Court ruled that any union dues taken without a government worker’s affirmative consent violates the First Amendment, and that these rights cannot be restricted absent a clear and knowing waiver by employees of their First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit explains that Shepard sent a letter to SEIU officials exercising his right under Janus to resign union membership and cut off all dues payments during a strike ordered by SEIU union bosses. According to the complaint, SEIU officials confirmed receipt of the letter but said that they would continue to seize dues from Shepard’s paycheck unless he sends another revocation letter during an annual fifteen-day escape period that does not open until July 2021.
SEIU and the University of Illinois’ escape period policy effectively prohibits employees from exercising their First Amendment rights under Janus for 350 days of the year (351 during leap years). Shepard contends in his lawsuit that SEIU and the University of Illinois violate the First Amendment by seizing payments for union speech from employees who resign their union membership and object to dues deductions outside of this short escape period. The complaint asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to order the SEIU and the University to stop enforcing the unconstitutional escape period and to order SEIU to refund to employees the dues it has unlawfully seized from them over their objections.
“Once again, SEIU officials are violating the First Amendment Janus rights of workers they claim to represent just so they can keep dues money rolling into their union’s coffers,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to stand with Mr. Shepard, and will continue to defend all healthcare employees who simply want to serve their patients without being forced to subsidize union activities.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.