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Janus update: Claim against WA state and Union fails because employees consented to dues deductions

October 05, 2020


By: Lily Crespo Esq.

Headline: The Ninth Circuit issued a ruling supporting unions in charging dues from members who consent to deduction of union dues.

What happened? On September 16 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Belgau v. Inslee, No. 19-35137, rejecting claims by former union members who alleged that their First Amendment rights were violated when their state employer deducted union membership dues which the plaintiffs had agreed to pay in exchange for union membership rights and benefits.

Context of this decision: On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (Janus v. AFSCME), ruling that public-sector unions cannot compel non-member employees to pay fees to cover the costs of non-political union activities. The ongoing question for school districts and employers has been how this decision will be applied. This case answers some of those questions.

Background: Belgau filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Washington and to the Washington Federation of State Employees (Union), asserting § 1983 claims for First Amendment violations stemming from the deduction of union dues from their paychecks.

  • Belgau and the putative class members are public employees who signed membership agreements authorizing Washington to deduct union dues from their paychecks and transfer them to the union.
  • After the Janus decision, Belgau terminated her Union membership and requested no further wage deductions. The Union terminated her membership but continued to deduct union dues from wages until an irrevocable 1-year term expired.
  • The 9th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the union, holding Belgau’s claims failed for lack of state action. Washington’s role was simply to enforce a private agreement and did not justify treating the union as a state actor. The 1st Amendment claims against Washington failed because the employees affirmatively consented to the deduction of union dues.

Employees who voluntarily agree to pay union dues have to pay union dues: Since Montana is in the Ninth Circuit, this ruling stands as significant guidance for other similar cases. If employees voluntarily consent to the deduction of union dues, they cannot later claim they were forced to pay those dues. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held:

there is an easy remedy for Washington public employees who do not want to be part of the union: they can decide not to join the union in the first place, or they can resign their union membership after joining. Employees demonstrated the freedom do so, subject to a limited payment commitment period. In the face of their voluntary agreement to pay union dues and in the absence of any legitimate claim of compulsion, the district court appropriately dismissed the First Amendment claim against Washington.”

Read more at your own risk: Belgau v. Inslee (9th Cir 09/16/2020)

As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.

Kaleva Law

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