BOSTON — A conservative group is threatening to sue state and local officials if they don’t stop collecting union dues and agency fees from workers’ paychecks.
In letters to Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other officials, the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center called on the state and local governments “to cease collection of union dues and fees and to recover dues and fees wrongfully taken from workers” or prepare to go to court.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that public workers cannot be forced to pay fees to unions that represent them in collective bargaining.
“The Supreme Court’s decision made clear that a government employer may only deduct union dues or fees from an employee’s paycheck if the employee has ‘clearly and affirmatively’ consented to the deduction,” wrote Patrick Hughes, president of the Liberty Justice Center, who successfully argued the case.
Hughes said deductions for union dues and fees that began before the court’s ruling are unconstitutional, and workers must agree to them.
“Any consent based upon that unconstitutional choice was made under duress, not freely given, and is invalid,” he wrote.
Baker spokeswoman Sarah Finlaw issued a one-sentence statement on the group’s demands, saying only that the administration “complied with the Supreme Court’s decision, and will continue dialogue with stakeholders.”
Union officials also shrugged off the threat of litigation, saying they’ve stopped collecting dues from non-members following the decision.
Frank Moroney, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93, accused the group of resorting to “desperate threats and legal tactics” because the court ruling didn’t result in a big decline in union membership.
Only 20 of nearly 40,000 union members in the organization’s four-state region opted out of paying the dues, he said.
“The Liberty Justice Center and other like-minded organizations believed the Janus decision would deliver a crushing below to public-sector labor unions and result in a mass exodus of dues-paying members,” he said in a statement. “They were wrong.”
Jeffrey Schwab, a senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, said some public-sector workers might choose not to contribute to unions, if given a the choice.
“Many union members before the decision didn’t know they had a choice,” he said in an interview. “We need to make sure they really understand that.”
He said the authorization could be as simple as sending out a one-page form asking public sector employees to consent to the the deductions.
The group has set up a website — https://standwithworkers.org/massachusetts — explaining the court’s ruling and asking public employees to contact them if they “have problems” opting out.
In its opinion, a Supreme Court majority sided with Mark Janus, an Illinois child-support specialist who does not belong to the union and fought its $45 monthly fee for covering him in contract negotiations. He argued that his money helped finance the union’s political activities, thus violating his free speech rights.
The court’s decision ended a provision in Massachusetts and 21 other states that required public employees to pay what’s known as “fair share” fees as a condition of employment, even if they don’t want to be union members. The fees are meant to help offset the costs of bargaining and contract administration that benefit them.
Healey, who disagreed with the high court’s ruling, issued an “advisory” that the state’s labor laws protect the rights of workers to “organize and to act collectively, free of interference or discrimination by an employer.”
“These letters are a clear attempt to scare public employers and to spread misinformation,” Margaret Quakenbush, a Healey spokeswoman, said in statement Friday. “The Janus decision does not, in any way, limit the rights of union members or impact the collection of union dues.”