Chicago Educators Take Union to Federal Court for Illegally Seizing Union Dues

On May 5, 2020, two Chicago Public School educators filed a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit against the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Board of Education. The educators received free legal counsel from staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

The suit is taking on a union policy which prevents teachers from exercising their First Amendment right to cease union payments outside of the month of August. In addition, the lawsuit is looking for the teachers to receive refunds of all dues seized thanks to this unconstitutional policy, which the Board of Education enforces.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Joanne Troesch, a Technology Coordinator at Jones College Prep, and Ifeoma Nkemdi, a second-grade teacher at Newberry Math and Science Academy. It asserts that CTU officials infringed on the First Amendment protections established in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision.

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In Janus, the Supreme Court struck down mandatory union dues as a violation of the First Amendment rights of government employees. The Court determined that any dues seized without a government worker’s affirmative consent is a violation of the First Amendment. On top of that, the Court explicitly stated that these rights cannot be curtailed “absent a clear and knowing waiver.”

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The lawsuit detailed that Troesch and Nkemdi “did not know they had a constitutional right not to financially support” the union leadership until the fall of 2019. While they were doing research on how to flex their right to continue working during a strike that CTU bosses initiated October 2019, the complaint notes that the teachers independently learned about their First Amendment Janus rights. They then proceeded to send letters the same month to CTU officials to assert their Janus right to withdraw union membership and stop paying union dues

According to the complaint, Troesch and Nkemdi did not receive a response until November, when CTU officials confirmed receiving the letters but said that they would continue to confiscate dues from the teachers’ paychecks “until September 1, 2020.” CTU bosses leaned on the fact that Troesch and Nkemdi had not sent their letters within a artificially created “escape period,” which places restrictions on when teachers can exercise their First Amendment right to end dues payments. The suit pointed out that the Board has continued seizing dues from the teachers’ paychecks and funneling them into the union’s coffers to this very day.

Troesch and Nkemdi argue in their lawsuit that CTU officials’ attempt to infringe on employees’ right to stop dues deductions with an “escape period” and the Board’s continued seizure of dues are violations of the First Amendment. The complaint requests the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to demand that the CTU union and Board of Education stop enforcing the unconstitutional “escape period” and inform all bargaining unit employees that they can stop the payment of union dues at any time and “retroactively exercise that right.” The complaint also requests that the union pay back the dues it confiscated because of the unconstitutional policy from Troesch and Nkemdi and all other educators after they attempted to cut off deductions.

“Once again, teacher union officials are violating the First Amendment Janus rights of teachers they claim to represent just so they can keep the teachers’ hard-earned money rolling into their union’s coffers,” remarked National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation is proud to stand with Ms. Troesch and Ms. Nkemdi, and will continue to defend all educators who simply want to serve their students and community without being forced to subsidize union activities.”

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