Two new class action lawsuits in Minnesota seek nearly $19 million in returned union fees

May 11, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS (May 11, 2020) – Today, six Minnesota state employees sued two of the state’s largest government unions for an estimated recovery of $19 million in union fees paid by state and local employees. The two class action lawsuits claim that because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is illegal to require public employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment, past fees should be refunded to workers.

The unions, AFSCME Council 5 and Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) collected fees for years from workers who did not want to join a union. The lawsuit against AFSCME may net $13 million in recovered fees for 8,000 state and local workers who paid fees to the union prior to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling. The lawsuit against MAPE could recover as much as $5.8 million for state employees.

The two lawsuits, Brown et al., v. AFSCME Council 5 and Fellows et al., v. MAPE were filed today by attorneys from the same nonprofit law firms that brought the U.S. Supreme Court case ending forced union fees, the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

“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,” said Eric Brown, lead plaintiff of the class action case against AFSCME. “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.”

MAPE also took dues as a condition of employment from state workers, and three employees who have worked in a variety of roles are suing the union to reclaim their money.

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

“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,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “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.”

“It’s outrageous that almost two years after the Supreme Court ruled in Janus that requiring public sector employees to pay union dues to keep their jobs is a First Amendment violation, scofflaw union officials still refuse to give back millions and millions of forced fees seized from workers in violation of the First Amendment,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to fight alongside the plaintiffs in these cases and the countless other workers across the country challenging attempts by union officials to continue to profit from their past unconstitutional behavior.”

Background: For years, public employees in Minnesota 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; these mandatory fees were permitted under state law. 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 five million government employees across the country.

The Liberty Justice Center partnered with Minnesota’s Upper Midwest Law Center and Center of the American Experiment to inform the state’s government workers of their rights and connect them with legal resources.

Brown et al. v. AFSCME Council 5 and Fellows et al. v. MAPE were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The case filings are available here: Brown et al., v. AFSCME Council 5 and Fellows et al., v. MAPE.


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