A federal court is being asked to strike down New Jersey's Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, a law enacted in May to serve as the state's workaround to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Janus case.
Ocean Township teachers Susan Fischer and Jeanette Speck filed the class-action suit Nov. 2 against Gov. Phil Murphy and two teachers unions, the New Jersey Education Association and Township of Ocean Education Association.
The suit alleges the law violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. Both resigned from the union in July, but were told by union officials that they could not stop payments or withdraw their membership because they had not done so under a 10-day window laid out under the new law.
William Messenger of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund is serving as the counsel for both plaintiffs; he argued the Janus case before the federal high court this summer.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Janus v. AFSCME in June, government workers have the option to voluntarily opt out of union dues, a move critics argue will severely weaken the power of public-sector unions in the U.S.
The latest suit argues the NJEA is defying Janus by collecting union dues from employees who opted out of the payroll deductions.
According to the suit, the “union dues [were] seized from them without their consent.” Both plaintiffs are asking the courts require the NJEA to refund the payments.
Steve Baker, director of communications for the NJEA, called the suit "another attack funded by wealthy anti-union groups seeking to undermine the rights of working people to form strong, effective unions."
"We will defend our members against this anti-union attack, and our members will continue working every day to make our New Jersey’s public schools the best in the nation," Baker said in a statement to NJBIZ.
The governor’s office deferred inquires to the attorney general’s office, which declined comment on the pending litigation.
When Murphy signed Assembly Bill 3686 in May establishing the act, he noted the law could potentially conflict with the outcome of the Janus v. AFSCME case.
“In the event that appropriate clarifying amendments are necessary following the Supreme Court’s decision, I will work closely with the sponsors to enact any required changes,” Murphy said at the time.
A3686 gives public-sector labor unions greater access to the employees they represent and dissuade employers from encouraging workers from resigning their union membership.
The bill allows union representatives to meet with employees on-site during work hours, set up meetings to discuss workplace issues and complaints, conduct on-site meetings with members during breaks and meet with newly hired employees.
Employers in turn, are required to turn over the contact information of the union’s member employees within 10 days of an employee’s start date, a feature of the law which drew particular criticism from opponents.
Backers of the law, such as Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said the measure was critical to “protect the rights of labor unions.”
“The Janus case could be a direct assault on unions, their members and all the employees who will be harmed by an antiunion decision,” Sweeney, a longtime union ironworker, said in a May statement. “We need to have these protections in place to help protect the rights of unions and the important work they do on behalf of working people and their families.”