The Center Square

Public Employees Sue Unions for $19 Million in Post-Janus Case

May 11, 2020

(The Center Square) – Two of Minnesota’s public sector unions received notice Monday they were being sued by employees in a class action alleging they were forced to unconstitutionally pay membership dues.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5 and Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) are named as defendants in two separate cases filed by the Liberty Justice Center (LJC) and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

The plaintiffs are seeking a combined $19 million in returned fees on behalf of approximately 8,000 employees who claim the unions charged them dues as a condition for employment, a practice rendered illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME case.

Brown et al., v. AFSCME Council 5 and Fellows et al., v. MAPE, if successful, may net $13 million and $5.8 million, respectively, for state and local workers.

“From 1993 to 2018 I was forced to pay AFSCME union dues for a union I never wanted to join in order to work for the state of Minnesota,” Eric Brown, lead plaintiff of the class action case against AFSCME, said in a LJC press release. “It is time for AFSCME to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling, return the money that was taken out of my paycheck without my permission, and return money to other Minnesota state employees who were victim to this as well.”

Mark Fellows is a licensed social worker for the Department of Human Services. Fellows paid fees from July 2007 through June 27, 2018.

“I joined this lawsuit because MAPE took money I didn’t want to pay and shouldn’t have been forced to pay. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, I should be entitled to get my money back,” Fellows said in the same LJC release.

Jeffrey Schwab, senior attorney at LJC, told The Center Square his organization has filed suit to recoup what he says are improperly collected dues in cases filed in Illinois, Maryland Pennsylvania and New York.

Schwab explained he’s concerned that public employees are being forced to subsidize union speech with which they disagree.

“Union speech is inherently political,” he said. “Forcing employees to pay union dues compels political speech, which is a violation of the First Amendment.”

“Thousands of employees in Minnesota had millions of dollars illegally taken from them by AFSCME and MAPE and we’re suing to get that money back,” Patrick Hughes, LJC co-founder and president, said in a release. “Unions around the country have been playing this same game for years, and AFSCME and MAPE need to be held accountable because they violated the U.S. Constitution by taking money from public workers who weren’t union members. Liberty Justice Center is representing these public employees so that their hard-earned money is back in their pockets where it belongs.”

Representatives from MAPE and AFSCME Council did not respond to requests for comment from The Center Square.