Two Monmouth County teachers have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the state of New Jersey, the NJEA and their local union, asserting that the defendants, through the implementation of a recent state law, violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling prohibiting collection of agency shop fees and/or union dues unless a public employee consents to the deductions. A copy of the lawsuit filed can be found here.

This summer, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiff Mark Janus, who works as a child support specialist for the state of Illinois. The Supreme Court held his First Amendment rights were violated by being compelled to pay agency shop fees (also termed “fair share fees”), and further held an employee must consent to pay any fees for activities associated with political speech, including union dues.

Prior to the Janus decision, in May, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the “Workforce Democracy Enhancement Act” (WDEA) which provided public employees a 10-day window following the anniversary of their employment each year to withdraw from their union. The WDEA also enhanced the union’s access to employee information and access to employees.

At issue in the lawsuit is the timeframe governing an employee’s ability to withdraw from membership in local unions. More specifically, the lawsuit asserts the WDEA’s 10-day window “is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, as secured against state infringement by the 14th Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and unenforceable.” In short, the lawsuit seeks to strike down the WDEA’s 10-day window and recoup fees paid by teachers without consent.

In the Township of Ocean, Monmouth County, teacher-plaintiff Sue Fischer had been a member of NJEA for three decades. In a story that NJTV aired on Nov. 15, 2018, Fischer said she pays $1,245 a year for union membership. Before the high court’s ruling on the Janus case, she’d been forced to pay 85 percent of that even when opting out of her union.

According to Fischer, she advised the board and her union of her lack of consent to any further deduction of union dues upon the Janus decision becoming public, but the dues continued to be deducted because her request was outside the 10-day window of the WDEA.

NJSBA will continue to monitor this case and keep board members apprised of developments that require board action. However, this filing was not unexpected, as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision has raised many questions. The May-June 2018 issue of School Leader magazine expIored the potential impact of the Janus ruling in New Jersey.