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Federal appeals court nixes effort to recover union fees

Two of the four plaintiffs in Hoekman v. Education Minnesota worked as public school teachers

Two of the four plaintiffs in Hoekman v. Education Minnesota worked as public school teachers.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that state employees who were not members of unions were not entitled to a return of “fair share” fees collected before a landmark 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In its 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the high court held that no public sector employee who refused membership in trade unions could be compelled to pay union dues, even though they received benefits as a result of collective bargaining. The decision overturned over 40 years of precedent that originated from the ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977). As a result of that case, unions were permitted to deduct “fair share” agency fees from state employees who chose not to join the unions, so long as the fees were not used to further ideological or political causes. However, the Janus court held that public-sector unions violated the First Amendment when they deducted fees without first obtaining affirmative consent from employees.

Subsequently, four Minnesota state employees brought suit against unions that represented their local bargaining units. Their cases were consolidated in Hoekman v. Education Minnesota.

Two of the four plaintiffs, Paul Hanson and Linda Hoekman, worked as public school teachers. Mary Dee Buros was an education coordinator and Thomas Piekarski worked for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in highway maintenance.

The 8th Circuit considered the cases of Hanson and Hoekman separately from those of Buros and Piekarski. It rejected Hanson and Hoekman’s claims that a good-faith defense was unavailable to the union, as well as their argument that the unions failed to show compliance with the restrictions on the use of fair-share fees laid out in Abood.

In the cases of Buros and Piekarski, the court determined that they had failed to establish that union’s action was the same as state action. Citing Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., the court wrote that the parties needed to show that the alleged deprivation “resulted from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority.”

Here, it said, any harm suffered was attributed to private policies rather than state-created rights or privileges.

The decision to affirm the ruling of the district court put the 8th Circuit in agreement with the seven other circuit courts that have considered this issue.

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