Union Station: Eighth Circuit issues opinions in two consolidated public-sector union cases

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bs-rp6MLFjqO8mt4iGn-WA5JPVpi4m3V7LkIeycnbynJzxZaPxnJMGE23ln-3ELE3MFJn9_8jLEEarmzbZ-oUdUje7-pFxZ0w57_zk1BdYxZ2GP_n_bDHxN8H1J_7qorQMjoA1IQ1MNK8UZhGA

Eighth Circuit issues opinions in two consolidated public-sector union cases

On July 25, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s rulings in four lawsuits brought against public-sector unions in Minnesota. The lawsuits were consolidated into two cases. In each case, the plaintiffs sought damages for fees deducted from non-union employee pay as a condition of employment, and Nelson ruled in favor of the unions.

About the cases

Hoekman v. Education Minnesota (21-1366, 21-2675)

  • Class-action complaint filed June 18, 2018. 
  • Amended class-action complaint filed Oct. 1, 2018.
  • Plaintiffs: Public school employees Linda Hoekman, Mary Dee Buros, and Paul Hanson. 
  • Defendants: Education Minnesota, Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers.
  • Nelson ruled in favor of the unions on Feb. 12, 2021.
  • Plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit on Feb. 17, 2021.
  • Oral argument held Feb. 16, 2022.
  • The Eighth Circuit panel affirmed Nelson’s ruling on July 25, 2022.

Piekarski v. AFSCME Council 5 (21-1372, 21-2687)

  • Class-action complaint filed Aug. 14, 2018.
  • Amended class-action complaint filed April 1, 2019. 
  • Plaintiff: Minnesota Department of Transportation employee Thomas Piekarski.
  • Defendant: AFSCME Council 5.
  • Nelson ruled in favor of the unions on Feb. 12, 2021.
  • Plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit on Feb. 17, 2021.
  • Oral argument held Feb. 16, 2022. 
  • The Eighth Circuit panel affirmed Nelson’s ruling on July 25, 2022. 

Brown v. AFSCME Council 5 (21-1640)

  • Class-action complaint filed May 8, 2020.
  • Plaintiffs: Minnesota state employees Eric Brown, Jody Tuchtenhagen, and Debbie Schultz. 
  • Defendant: AFSCME Council 5.
  • Nelson dismissed the case on Feb. 12, 2021.
  • Plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit on March 19, 2021.
  • Oral argument held Feb. 16, 2022. 
  • The Eighth Circuit panel affirmed Nelson’s ruling on July 25, 2022. 

Fellows v. Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (21-1684)

  • Class-action complaint filed May 8, 2020. 
  • Plaintiffs: Minnesota state employees Mark Fellows, Alicia Bonner, and Catherine Wyatt. 
  • Defendant: Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.
  • Nelson dismissed the case on Feb. 12, 2021.
  • Plaintiffs appealed to the Eighth Circuit on March 25, 2021.
  • Oral argument held Feb. 16, 2022. 
  • The Eighth Circuit panel affirmed Nelson’s ruling on July 25, 2022. 

What the court decided

U.S. Circuit Judges James Loken, Steven Colloton, and Bobby Shepherd formed the panel that considered the cases. 

Hoekman and Piekarski

Colloton wrote the court’s opinion. The clerk’s summary of the court’s decision in Hoekman and Piekarski said:

“In these cases Minnesota state employees sued unions seeking monetary relief based on the amount of so-called ‘fair share’ fees that had been deducted from their paychecks for the benefit of the unions. … The district court granted summary judgment for the unions, and plaintiffs appeal. … [P]ublic-sector unions are entitled to a good-faith defense to liability under Section 1983 if they relied on a then-valid statute to collect fair shares from a non-union member employee before Janus was decided. … Plaintiffs Buros and Piekarski’s claims fail because the unions were private actors and were not acting under color of state law; the district court did not err in awarding certain litigation costs to the unions; the unions were not required to move to dismiss the case, thereby reducing potential costs, rather than wait and file motions for summary judgment.” 

Brown and Fellows 

Colloton also wrote the court’s opinion in this case. The clerk’s summary of the court’s decision in Brown and Fellows said:

“In these cases, current and former Minnesota state employees sought damages under Section 1983 for money deducted from their paychecks by unions that represented their local bargaining unit. The district court held that the unions were entitled to a defense against liability under Section 1983 because they acted in good-faith reliance on state statutes and existing judicial precedent. … A plaintiff who sues a private-party defendant based on the defendant’s employment of a state law that has been declared unconstitutional must show that the defendant was not acting in good-faith reliance on that law; here, the plaintiffs do not allege that that the unions subjectively believed they were violating the rights of employees by collecting the fees, so the court need not address whether such a showing would overcome the unions’ objectively reasonable reliance on the statute in question; because the unions collected the fair share fees under Minn. Stat. Sec. 179A.06 at a time when the procedure used had been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, their reliance on the statute was objectively reasonable, and they were entitled to a good-faith defense.” 

President George H.W. Bush (R) appointed Loken to the court, and President George W. Bush (R) appointed Colloton and Shepherd. 

About the Eighth Circuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit hears appeals from the district courts in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The chief judge of the court is Lavenski Smith, a George W. Bush appointee. Of the court’s 11 active judges, George H.W. Bush appointed one, George W. Bush appointed five, President Barack Obama (D) appointed one, and President Donald Trump (R) appointed four. 

In the 12-month reporting period that ended on March 31, 3,020 appeals were filed in the Eighth Circuit. Six other courts of appeals saw more cases filed during that time. The Ninth Circuit had the most, with 9,018 appeals filed.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 149 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.

  • California AB189: This appropriations bill includes an ongoing proposal for the creation of a tax credit for union dues.
    • Introduced by the Assembly Budget Committee.
    • Sent back to Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee Aug. 1. 
  • California AB1577: This bill would allow state legislative employees to organize and bargain collectively.
    • Bipartisan sponsorship. 
    • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Aug. 1. Sent to suspense file Aug. 2. (Bills meeting a certain annual cost threshold are sent to the suspense file for further consideration at a later hearing.) 
  • California AB1714: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Aug. 1. Sent to suspense file Aug. 2.
  • California AB2556: This bill would change the time frame for a local public agency employer to implement a final offer after a factfinders’ recommendation has been submitted in the case of a dispute between the employer and employee organization.
    •  Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing scheduled for Aug. 8. 
  • California SB931: This bill would allow a union to bring a claim before the Public Employment Relations Board against a public employer allegedly in violation of California Government Code Section 3550 and would set civil penalties for violations. Section 3550 prohibits public employers from discouraging union membership. 
    •  Democratic sponsorship.
    • Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing Aug. 3. Sent to suspense file.  
  • California SB1313: This bill would prohibit Los Angeles County from discriminating against union members by limiting employee health benefits.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing Aug. 3. Sent to suspense file.
  • California SB1406: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing Aug. 3. Sent to suspense file.

Thank you for reading! Let us know what you think! Reply to this email with any feedback or recommendations.




About the author

Ballotpedia staff