A new lawsuit in Illinois could compel school districts and teachers unions to inform employees about their First Amendment right to opt out of union dues.
Waukegon District 60 teacher Ariadna Ramon Baro filed the lawsuit on April 3 with the help of the Liberty Justice Center, which won a landmark Supreme Court case in 2018 that ended “fair share” requirements for non-union members.
In schools across the country, teachers are represented by teachers unions that mislead public school employees into believing union membership is a condition of employment. Many educators sign up for the union without realizing the cost of dues, or that they have the option of declining membership. Before the 2018 case, Janus v. AFSCME, union agreements required “fair share fees” from nonmembers, but the Supreme Court ruled the fees violate the First Amendment.
District 60 hired Baro as an English learners teacher in 2019 through a visiting teacher program with Spain, and she didn’t realize union membership was optional. When she later attempted to opt out of the American Federation of Teachers Local 504, the union denied the request because it didn’t come during a 30-day annual window to withdraw, the Lake County News-Sun reports.
“The complaint, filed in federal court on April 3, points to other court cases to argue that the employees must be informed of their rights under Janus in order to waive them,” according to the news site.
“The complaint points as precedent to the obligation union officials had before Janus to inform new employees of their First Amendment right to pay a fair-share fee instead of full union dues.”
The lawsuit includes an email from the union representative at Baro’s school that blatantly misrepresented teachers’ rights.
“Just to clarify, you will pay union dues regardless of whether or not you are a member,” the rep wrote.
“As a Spanish citizen working on a J-1 visa, Ms. Baro would especially have no reason to have knowledge of American constitutional law, making it all the more imperative that the District and the Union inform her of her rights,” according to the complaint. “To make matters worse, Ms. Baro was later given false information by a union representative, asserting (wrongly) that teachers would have to pay union fees regardless of whether they were members or not.”
The lawsuit contends Baro submitted a letter of resignation from the union as soon as she learned membership was optional. Union officials, however, rejected the resignation and continue to deduct dues from her paycheck because she didn’t resign during a specific window of time in August.
“The lawsuit asks that the courts declare either union dues cannot be taken out of employees’ paychecks unless they have been informed of their right not to join or that her request to leave the union, made 10 days after signing the union card, should have been allowed,” the News-Sun reports.
“It also asks that the district stop deducting union dues from Baro’s paycheck, she be repaid those that have been collected and her attorney fees and other costs be paid.”