Union officials threaten to take away healthcare benefits unless employees “authorize” years of prior illegal union dues deductions
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San Juan, PR (January 4, 2021) – Employees of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the University of Puerto Rico Workers Union. The motion comes as part of the employees’ class action lawsuit against the University’s President in his official capacity and the union for illegally seizing dues from workers’ paychecks without their authorization.
Jose Ramos and Orlando Mendez originally filed their class action suit in May 2020 with free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys. The lawsuit contends that union and university officials are infringing on its employees’ rights as recognized in the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Janus, the High Court ruled that requiring public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment, and further held that union fees can only be taken from public employees with an affirmative waiver of the right not to pay.
Mendez and Ramos have been employed by the University as maintenance workers since 1997 and 1996, respectively. From then, the complaint says, university and union officials “have regarded Ramos and Mendez as members of the Union” and seized dues from their paychecks, despite neither ever having signed a union membership or dues deduction authorization form.
On December 29, 2020, the lawsuit was amended to include two additional plaintiffs, and to specifically challenge a recent attempt by union officials to coerce university workers into signing a document retroactively approving all previously deducted dues and consenting to an unspecified number of future deductions. According to the complaint, employees who do not comply with union officials’ demands that they sign this document will lose access to the employer provided healthcare plan the union administers.
On December 30, the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction to block union officials’ efforts to force employees to choose between losing their healthcare and retroactively agreeing to union dues deductions taken in violation of their rights. The motion also asks the court to block and reverse union efforts to bar health insurance from employees who refuse to sign away their First Amendment rights.
The employees’ lawsuit contends that union and university officials violated the First Amendment by seizing dues from employee paychecks without written authorization, and by requiring employees to become full union members in violation of longstanding precedent. The lawsuit additionally seeks an order forbidding further enforcement of the unconstitutional schemes and requiring the union to refund to employees dues that were seized illegally “within the … 15-year statute of limitations period for breach of contract.”
“For years, University of Puerto Rico Workers Union bosses have gotten away with taking dues out of the pockets of those they claim to represent without ever getting their permission,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Now, instead of seeking to win workers’ voluntary support, they’re threatening to take away the healthcare of anyone who doesn’t meet their demands as they attempt to retain years of unconstitutional union dues deductions.”
“We hope the court will move quickly and grant the injunction to block union officials’ blatantly unconstitutional actions,” added Mix.
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.