Maryland Matters

Aided by Conservative Legal Groups, State Workers Sue to Recoup Union Dues

September 4, 2019

(Maryland Matters) — A group of state government workers on Wednesday sued a public employee union, saying the union improperly collected dues from them even though they never became members.

The class-action suit was filed in federal court in Baltimore against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, the principal union for state employees. In the suit, the 19 state employees are seeking a refund of fees they say they were forced to pay before the Supreme Court ruled last year that public employee unions can no longer automatically collect dues from workers who do not want to become union members.

Two conservative legal groups, the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, handled the legal work for the state workers.

For more than 40 years, public employee unions were allowed to collect dues from government workers even if the workers did not want to join the union. But the precedent was overturned in a 2018 Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME.

Using the Janus decision as a basis for their lawsuit, the 19 state employees are seeking refunds of fees paid to AFSCME between Sept. 4, 2016, and June 27, 2018, the day of the Supreme Court ruling, because this is the time period covered by the Maryland statute of limitations.

“I was never a member of AFSCME and I never wanted anything to do with the union, yet I paid the union more than $2,000 since 2011,” said Gary Mattos, a correctional dietary officer with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for 20 years and lead plaintiff in the new case. “I want my money back and so do many other state employees.”

The president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center said mandated union dues amounted to an unconstitutional form of coercion.

“It’s time for AFSCME to rectify the situation by returning to workers the money they should never have taken in the first place,” he said.

In a written statement, AFSCME Council 3, which is based in Baltimore and represents workers throughout state government, called the lawsuit “frivolous,” and said it is “another shameless attempt to undermine the rights and freedoms of public service workers. Since Janus was decided in 2018, the Liberty Justice Center and their ilk have filed hundreds of similar cases; all of them have failed. Meanwhile, public service workers remain committed to their union. And with support for unions at a near 50-year high and nearly half of nonunionized workers saying they would join a union if they could, it’s clear that more Americans want the freedom to join unions, and these organizations are trying to rob us of that freedom.”