A state Department of Human Services income maintenance supervisor filed a federal class action lawsuit against a large state government employee union seeking to reclaim the union fees she and more than 2,000 other non-union commonwealth social service employees were forced to pay.
In the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in U.S. Middle District Court, Catherine Kioussis of York County is seeking to recoup for herself and others what could amount to more than $1 million in union fees paid to the Service Employees International Union Local 668 in 2017 and 2018.
The seven-page lawsuit arises out of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June 2018 that found the practice of forcing government employees who chose not to join a government union to pay a “fair share fee” to a union was unconstitutional.
Kioussis, who has worked for the state since 2008, and others are demanding a refund of the money “illegally taken from them” as far back as the statute of limitations allows, which in this case is two years, said Brian Kelsey, a lawyer with the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center.
The center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation that are representing Kioussis also represented the former child support specialist from Illinois named Mark Janus who successfully sued AFSCME in the landmark 2018 Supreme Court case that outlawed the union practice of charging non-union members a fair share fee.
SEIU Local 669 President Steve Catanese said the union remains confident it will prevail in court in this case.
“The Liberty Justice Center, along with other anti-union organizations such as the Fairness Center, is being funded by millions of dollars in dark money donations from billionaires and corporations. The sole purpose of these organizations and investments in them is to file frivolous litigation against labor unions and undermine the ability of workers to have a voice at the workplace,” he said in an emailed statement.
“Despite these organizations’ best efforts, our focus remains on continuing to fight for the workers that are a part of our union and for a better Pennsylvania.”
Kelsey estimates between 2,000 and 3,500 employees may be covered by this lawsuit. Using the $450 a year that Kioussis said she was forced to pay to SEIU Local 668 in fair share fees is how lawyers arrived at the roughly $1 million, at a minimum, in damages they seek.
“It’s unfortunate her constitutional rights were violated,” Kelsey said. “We’re going to make sure she can get her money back now, or at least as much as we can gather that she paid over the last couple of years.”
If the court agrees to certify other eligible employees who paid fees to SEIU Local 668 as a class, Kelsey said they will receive a notice in the mail.
This is the third class-action lawsuit filed by the Liberty Justice Center on behalf of government employees since the Janus decision. The others were filed in Illinois and New York but Kelsey anticipates more cases like it will be filed in the other 19 non-Right to Work states.