University of Puerto Rico Employees File Federal Class-Action Lawsuit Against Union for First Amendment Violations

On May 19, 2020, two University of Puerto Rico (UPR) employees filed a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit against the university and officials at the University of Puerto Rico Workers Union. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico and charges union and university officials with subjecting employees to forced union membership in violation of their First Amendment rights.

The employees, Jose Ramos and Orlando Mendez, argue that union and university officials are violating their rights upheld in the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. In Janus, the High Court ruled that mandating public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment. Additionally, it determined that union dues can only be deducted from public employees “with an affirmative waiver of the right not to pay.”

Mendez’s and Ramos’s lawsuit also argues that the monopoly bargaining contract’s requirement that all employees join a union violates the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of association. The lawsuit states that university and union officials also violated a contract provision that allows the deduction of union dues from employee paychecks only after employees gave their authorization.

The lawsuit highlighted how Mendez and Ramos have worked at the University as maintenance workers since 1997 and 1996, respectively. The complaint states that university and union officials “have regarded Ramos and Mendez as members of the Union” and confiscated dues from their paychecks, despite neither of them signing union membership or a dues deduction authorization form.

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In July 2018, right after the Janus decision was made, Mendez and Ramos both sent letters to the union asserting their First Amendment right to withdraw union membership and end dues deductions. The union ignored these requests, and the union and University ignored attempts by both men to renew those demands in March 2020, according to the lawsuit. The complaint says that the University continues to take full dues from their paychecks.

Mendez’s and Ramos’s lawsuit urges the U.S. District Court to declare unconstitutional the contract provisions forcing employees to pay dues and join a union, and to declare that union and university officials violated the monopoly bargaining contract by confiscating dues from employee paychecks without their written authorization. In addition, the lawsuit is looking for an order to prohibit further enforcement of the unconstitutional forced unionization schemes, and an order instructing the union to return to employees dues that were illegally taken “within the…15-year statute of limitations period for breach of contract.”

“For years University of Puerto Rico Workers Union officials have been able to get away with trampling the rights of the workers they claim to represent, not only by illegally filling their coffers with forced dues in violation of Janus, but also by forcing employees into union membership, a practice that has always been unconstitutional,” declared National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “They must not be permitted to profit from their past malfeasance, and the Foundation is proud to stand with Mr. Mendez and Mr. Ramos as they fight for their rights and the rights of their coworkers.”

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