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Professor wins settlement blocking forced union dues

Union must return fees with interest to educators as part of class-action lawsuit settlement

Evidently, if you’re a dues-paying member of a California teachers’ union, you can’t check out any time you want. At least that’s what the union bosses declared.

Last August, Ventura County Community College District math professor Michael McCain notified his union, the American Federation of Teachers, that he wanted to drop his membership and stop paying dues. Both the school and the union denied McCain’s request, claiming there was a specific “window” of time by which employees could drop their union membership.

Yet just a month earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that unions can no longer collect a portion of an employee’s paycheck in “agency fees,” which are a substitute for full dues.

In January of this year, McCain sued both the school and the union in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, claiming these mandatory fees are now unconstitutional. The class-action lawsuit was joined by other teachers.

Last week, community college district officials and the teachers union settled with McCain. According to a copy of the settlement obtained by The College Fix, the school and union have been ordered to “fully and unconditionally” refund fees paid by McCain and other faculty members who requested their fees be discontinued after the Janus decision. The fees will be repaid with interest.

The college and union also promised to scrap any rule setting up a time window in which employees may exercise their constitutional rights, according to the settlement.

Neither the Ventura County Community College District nor the American Federation of Teachers Local 1828 responded to requests by The College Fix to comment for this story.

McCain was represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which also argued the Janus case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Michael McCain joins the ranks of educators and other government employees across the country who have successfully fought for and defended their First Amendment rights under Janus from union boss schemes like annual ‘escape periods,’ which serve no purpose other than to continue the flow of illegal dues into union coffers,” said National Right to Work President Mark Mix in a statement following the settlement.

The issue of mandatory union dues became a national story in 2011, when governors around America began signing laws weakening public-sector collective bargaining. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker eliminated mandatory dues and the state erupted, with hundreds of thousands of pro-union protestors overtaking the state capitol building.

The more recent Supreme Court case was brought by Mark Janus, a home care worker for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus has said he took the job because of his concern for children who suffer when their parents split up. “But just because I care about kids doesn’t mean I also want to support a government union,” he wrote in January 2016.

Janus sued to avoid having to pay money every month to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, which was required of him by state law. Janus disapproves of the union’s politics and the damage he believes organized labor has done to Illinois’ finances. “The union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight,” he wrote.

Similarly, in August 2005, Professor McCain signed a union dues checkoff card authorizing the automatic deduction of union dues from his paycheck. According to the lawsuit, McCain was required to sign the card as a condition of employment with the Ventura County Community College District.

In April of this year, the American Association of University Professors returned $5,251.48 to University of Connecticut accounting Professor Steven Utke. The university hired Utke in 2015, and although he never considered himself a member of the AAUP, dues were deducted from his paycheck to support the union, which had sole bargaining power for professors.

Utke was also represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is currently pursuing a compulsory dues lawsuit against the California State University Dominguez Hills on behalf of Professor William Brice.

MORE: Faculty union hides membership plunge after Supreme Court bans mandatory fees: report

IMAGE: Sean Locke Photography / Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
Senior Reporter
Christian focuses on investigative, enterprise and analysis reporting. He is the author of "1916: The Blog" and has spent time as a political columnist at USA Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and National Review Online. His op-eds have been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, City Journal, Weekly Standard and National Review. He has also been a frequent guest on political television and radio shows. He holds a master’s degree in political science from Marquette University and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.