Union Station: Federal lawsuits related to public-sector unions: 2022 roundup

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Federal lawsuits related to public-sector unions: 2022 roundup

Since late 2019, Ballotpedia has tracked close to 200 federal lawsuits related to public-sector unions. Today, we’ll take a look at the state of litigation at the end of 2022 and highlight a selection of cases with recent activity in the district and circuit courts.

Background 

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public-sector unions may not require non-member employees to pay agency fees covering the costs of non-political union activities, overturning precedent established in 1977. Most of the lawsuits we’ve tracked since Janus have asked one or more of the following questions: 

  • Whether public-sector unions can be held liable for refunding agency fees paid before Janus
  • Whether public-sector unions may continue to collect union dues from an employee who leaves the union if there is a pre-existing agreement that membership or dues authorization may only be revoked during a certain window; 
  • Whether exclusive bargaining representation laws violate non-union members’ First Amendment rights; 
  • Whether mandatory bar association dues should be reconsidered in light of Janus.

We’re also tracking lawsuits in which public-sector unions challenge state or federal laws and policies. 

What we’ve seen

The map below shows the cases we’re tracking by the U.S. district court in which they originated. The three districts with the highest number of cases are the Middle District of Pennsylvania (18 cases), the Central District of California (16 cases), and the District of Oregon (15 cases). 

Here’s the breakdown by circuit and case status (pending cases are divided by court level, and cases that have been dismissed, settled, or otherwise resolved are counted together):

Finally, this chart shows the cases we’ve tracked since 2019 by the year each case was originally filed:

Case highlights

Wilson v. Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services

  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio
    • Filed: Dec. 8, 2022 (Case number: 3:22-cv-02221)

Three employees of the Lucas County, Ohio, Department of Job and Family Services sued their employer and the union representing department employees, AFSCME Council 8. The plaintiffs asked the court to “[i]ssue a declaratory judgment that Defendants violate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to free speech and association, as secured against state infringement by the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by seizing union payments from them without their consent and by maintaining [an indemnity clause in the collective bargaining agreement].” Attorneys from The Buckeye Institute and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation represent the plaintiffs. 

Kumpf v. New York State United Teachers 

  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York
    • Filed: April 29, 2022 (Case number: 1:22-cv-00402)
    • Judgment: Nov. 22, 2022

Plaintiff Jennifer Kumpf, a second-grade teacher, sued the Buffalo City School District, Buffalo Teachers Federation, and New York State United Teachers, asking the court to declare that “Defendants’ actions in forcing Plaintiff, as a nonmember, to provide past and ongoing financial support to Defendant Unions  … violated and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution,” and that “any taking and/or retention of union dues or fees from Plaintiff after her resignation of membership in Defendant Unions and without proper constitutional notice and waiver violates her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.” Attorneys from The Fairness Center represented Kumpf. 

On Nov. 22, 2022, U.S. District Judge Brenda K. Sannes ruled in favor of the defendants, dismissing Kumpf’s lawsuit. Sannes wrote that “[Kumpf’s] argument that Defendants’ failure to obtain a constitutional waiver once she resigned her union membership before they could continue to deduct dues fails to state a plausible claim for relief under the First Amendment” and that “[Kumpf failed] to plausibly allege that Defendant District, in adhering to the signed authorization’s terms deprived [Kumpf] of a protected liberty or property interest in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Ramon Baro v. Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504

  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
    • Filed: April 3, 2020 (Case number: 1:20-cv-02126)
    • Judgment: March 28, 2022
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
    • Appealed: April 28, 2022 (Case number: 22-1722)
    • Oral argument: Dec. 6, 2022

Plaintiff Ariadna Ramon Baro, an employee of the Waukegan Community Unit School District #60, sued the school district and Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504, the exclusive representative for district employees. Ramon Baro asked the court to “[d]eclare that her signing of a union card cannot provide a basis for her affirmative consent to waive her First Amendment rights upheld in Janus because such authorization was given without knowing and intelligent waiver of her First Amendment rights” and to “[d]eclare that the Union and the District may not withhold union dues or fees from public workers unless those workers have been informed, and thus have knowledge of their right not to pay dues or fees to a union.” Attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center represent Ramon Baro. 

On March 28, 2022, Judge John F. Kness ruled in favor of the defendants. Kness wrote, “Plaintiff may now regret her earlier decision to join the Union, but that does not render her knowing and voluntary choice nonconsensual. Unlike the proscribed conduct by Janus’ employer, the District’s deductions of dues from Plaintiff’s earnings were made in compliance with Plaintiff’s explicit written instructions. … In the light of Plaintiff’s voluntary agreement to pay union dues, and in the absence of any legitimate claim of compulsion, Plaintiff has failed to state a First Amendment claim against Defendants.” 

Ramon Baro appealed to the Seventh Circuit on April 28, 2022. The oral argument for this case was held on Dec. 6, 2022. Click here for audio. 

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 150 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

No public-sector union bills saw activity this week.


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About the author

Janie Valentine

Janie Valentine is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.