Union Station: Indiana unions sue over payroll deduction law

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Indiana unions sue over law requiring annual authorization for payroll deductions

Three Indiana teachers unions filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to block Senate Enrolled Act 251 (SEA 251), which would require teachers to authorize union payroll deductions on a yearly basis, from taking effect on July 1.  

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 251 on April 22. The law says, “Authorizations by a school employee for the withholding of school employee organization dues from the school employee’s pay shall not exceed one (1) year in duration and shall be subject to annual renewal.” The law requires school employees wanting to have union dues deducted from their paychecks to sign an authorization form acknowledging that union membership and dues are voluntary. Upon receiving an employee’s authorization form, the employer must email the employee and receive a response in confirmation of the authorization. 

About the lawsuit

The Anderson Federation of Teachers, Avon Federation of Teachers, Martinsville Classroom Teachers, and the three unions’ presidents filed their complaint on June 15. The unions claim the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s contract clause and the First Amendment. 

The complaint states

After July 1, 2021, SEA 251 forbids dues deductions from occurring without the authorizing process described therein, without exception for dues deductions performed through existing authorizations. SEA 251 therefore has the effect of terminating existing dues authorization contracts and related collective bargaining agreement obligations governing dues deductions. … SEA 251 therefore impairs the existing dues authorization contracts in violation of Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution. …

Members of teachers’ unions are the only individuals in the state required to go through the cumbersome process for dues deductions, as well as the only individuals in the state whose dues authorizations are limited to one year. Placing a burden on teachers when they band together to financially support their exclusive representative while placing none on all employees who make wage assignments for individual purposes is clearly a restraint on the First Amendment right of association.

By requiring teachers to use dues deduction authorization agreements that contain State-dictated language concerning their constitutional rights to refrain from joining a union or paying union dues, SEA 251 compels teachers to speak a content-based message in violation of their First Amendment freedom of speech.

According to the Princeton Daily Clarion, Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch will likely issue a ruling by June 30. 

The case name and number are Anderson Federation of Teachers et al. v. Rokita et al. (No. 1:21-cv-01767). 


Opposing the law

Jeff Macey, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said, “Why are teachers being singled out for these onerous restrictions? … No other union, no other charity, no other organization in the state has to do this to assign a portion of your wages to (them).” 

Avon Federation of Teachers president Suzy Lebo said, “It’s a stunt by the Indiana legislators to try to keep teachers unions from happening. … It’s not like we’re holding anybody hostage. I’m not sure what they’re after, except punishing us.”

Supporting the law

Attorney General Todd Rokita (R), a defendant in the suit, said, “Indiana’s status as a ‘right-to-work’ state was reaffirmed by the Indiana General Assembly this year with the passage of Senate Enrolled Act 251 … I will always stand up to protect the individual liberties of hard-working Hoosiers – and that includes fighting to defend teachers’ right to choose how they spend their hard-earned money.” 

Sen. Phil Boots (R) said, “If a teacher wishes to be a member of a union, this law will not hinder their ability to do so. … This legislation was introduced after lawmakers heard from teachers who felt they were not given an appropriate amount of flexibility.” 

Update to last week’s story: On June 15, a West Virginia circuit court temporarily blocked a law from going into effect that would have prohibited public-sector union members from having dues withdrawn from their paychecks after 12 unions filed a lawsuit claiming the law was unconstitutional.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 94 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. 

  • Maine LD449: Existing law requires public employers and collective bargaining agents to meet within 10 days of receiving written notice of a request for a bargaining meeting.  This applies only if the parties have not otherwise agreed in an earlier contract. This bill would eliminate that exception.
    • Democratic sponsorship.  
    • Senate passed June 14, House passed June 15. 
  • Oregon SB580: This bill would amend the law’s definition of “employment relations” to include class size and caseload limits as mandatory collective bargaining subjects for school districts. 
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate president signed June 15.