Ohio Schoolteacher Sues for Freedom from Union Dues

Published September 22, 2018

Lawyers representing an Ohio schoolteacher are suing the local teacher’s union, claiming the organization is continuing to violate her right to free association after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the First Amendment rights of public-sector workers.

The Buckeye Institute is suing the Marietta City School District’s board of education in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The suit requests an end to what it describes as an “unlawful scheme of withholding money from the paychecks of public employees to fund the speech and petitioning of a labor union without their affirmative consent.”

In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mark Janus, an Illinois government employee requesting an end to the involuntary extraction of union dues from his paycheck as a condition of employment.

Challenging State Laws

Buckeye Institute lawyers filed the complaint on behalf of Jade Thompson, a high-school Spanish teacher employed at Marietta (OH) High School for more than 15 years.

The lawyers are asking the judge to overturn Ohio’s “fair-share” and “exclusive-representation” laws that require Thompson to pay union dues at a reduced rate and allow the labor group to negotiate on her behalf against her wishes.

Lawyers representing the school board filed a response to the Buckeye Institute’s motion on August 29, saying Ohio law compels the extraction of dues and the binding of Thompson’s contract to terms negotiated by the union.

‘It’s Wrong’

Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network and a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says government grants of exclusive bargaining rights are a scam benefitting labor unions.

“I think the bigger picture is this: What gives the union the right to exclusively bargain for everybody?” Sand said. “Especially now, in a post-Janus world, no public employee has to be part of a union. So why does the union still get to represent that person? The union demands exclusivity, and it’s wrong.”

Sand says exclusive representation is really a lose-lose proposition for teachers and school districts alike.

“If I want to become a schoolteacher, maybe I think I’m a hotshot; maybe I think I’m the greatest teacher around,” Sand said. “Maybe I think I’m [celebrated teacher] Jaime Escalante and I can make $200,000 a year. I’m going to demand that, so I go to a school district where a unionized salary schedule says the most I can make is $50,000, and I’d say, ‘Well, too bad. I’m going to go to the next school district.’ That’s just not fair to that candidate or the school district.”

Fake News About Janus

Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer of the Buckeye Institute, says teachers’ unions are misleading their members about their rights under the Janus decision.

“Most of the unions have tended to abide by the decision regarding nonmembers, at least, and have gone ahead and stopped withholding their union dues,” Alt said. “But they tend to be telling current union members that they’re locked in, that the mere fact of membership is voluntary consent.

“A lot of [the unions] have actually stacked the deck in a way to try to keep current members locked in for years to come, without giving a meaningful opportunity to avail themselves of their Janus rights,” Alt said.

Worker Freedom 2.0

Sand says cases such as the Thompson lawsuit are a natural evolution of the fight for government employees’ freedom.

“This is the very logical next step: ‘Part A, I don’t want to belong to a union,’ and ‘Part B, I don’t want them representing me,'” Sand said. “You call me a free rider, fine. If I’m not represented or I don’t get the perks, that’s fine, I’ll deal with it myself or I’ll get somebody else to help me deal with it or form my own association.

“I’m happy to see these suits coming down from Ohio,” Sand said.

Alt says the fight for public workers’ freedom did not end with the Janus case, and it won’t end with Thompson’s lawsuit.

“We have had multiple employees reach out to us where unions have claimed they will not permit any union member to exercise Janus rights until 2021,” Alt said. “I think these are very poor readings of Janus. We have already successfully represented multiple clients where our merely issuing a demand has led unions to go ahead and release workers from the requirement to continue to pay union dues.”