New class action lawsuit demands millions of dollars in refunds from AFSCME District Council 37, New York City’s top employee union

July 24, 2019

NEW YORK (July 24, 2019) – A class action lawsuit filed against New York City’s largest municipal union is demanding millions of dollars in illegal union fees be returned to city employees. If successful, approximately 7,000 city employees could recoup as much as $7 million in illegal union fees they paid between 2016 and 2018.

For decades, the city required employees who were not union members to pay hundreds of dollars a year in “agency fees” to AFSCME District Council 37. But in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that it is a violation of employees’ First Amendment rights to require them to fund government unions as a condition of working in public service. The new lawsuit, Solomon v. AFSCME DC 37, demands the union pay back millions of dollars in illegal union fees that it took from non-members prior to the Court’s ruling in Janus.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from the same nonprofit law firms that brought the Janus case, the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

“The Supreme Court was clear: Mandatory union fees are unconstitutional. These fees should never have been taken from government workers’ paychecks. Now it’s time for AFSCME to give back the money it wrongfully took,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center.

The plaintiff in the new case, Scott Solomon, is a city planner in the Queens office of the New York City Department of City Planning who paid agency fees from October 2014 to July 2018. During that time, he paid approximately $750 per year in agency fees to AFSCME District Council 37, even though he was not a union member. Solomon is seeking a refund of union fees he and other city employees paid from July 23, 2016, through June 28, 2018, because this is what is permitted under the New York statute of limitations. If he is successful, all city employees who were not union members but paid fees to AFSCME District Council 37 could receive refunds. While the employees could collect two years of union fees, most paid much more in illegal union fees over the course of their public service careers.

“As this case demonstrates, even after the Supreme Court clearly ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that forcibly seizing union dues and fees violates the First Amendment rights of the very workers they claim to represent, AFSCME union bosses refuse to make restitution to their countless victims,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Just as a bank robber caught red-handed would never be allowed to keep the proceeds of such illegal behavior, union officials must also return the money they’ve pilfered from the paychecks of New York City municipal workers in violation of the Constitution.”

For decades, government workers in New York and other states without right-to-work laws were required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. It didn’t matter if workers weren’t union members or did not support the unions’ positions on policies and politics; politicians in New York and elsewhere had granted government unions the power to exclusively represent public sector workers, and to collect mandatory union fees from their paychecks. But in 2015, a child support specialist for Illinois government named Mark Janus filed a federal lawsuit challenging the practice of mandatory union fees. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of Mark Janus on June 27, 2018, restoring the rights of Free Speech and Freedom of Association to more than 5 million government employees across the country.

The new class action lawsuit, Solomon v. AFSCME DC 37, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. A copy of the case is available here.


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