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Ohio public school worker wins back pay settlement in lawsuit over forced union dues

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An Ohio worker won settlement money from a public union after the union refused to honor her request to leave the union and continued to collect union dues. The union will have to fully refund her dues from the point at which she requested to leave it and stop collecting any union dues from her into the future.

The Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) continued to collect money from Donna Fizer, a bus driver for the Ripley Union Lewis Huntington School District, because she failed to opt out of the union during its “escape period,” which is a 10-day window that occurs every few years in which the union allows a person to opt out. Under OAPSE’s policy, if a union member misses this window, then that worker is stuck as a union member until the next escape period comes around.

Fizer had argued that this 10-day window requirement violated the precedent set in the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus V. AFSCME. In that decision, the court ruled that forcing government workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. The court said that the union could only collect such dues if a person affirmatively and knowingly waived his or her rights. OAPSE is an affiliate of AFSCME, which lost the Supreme Court case.

Although OAPSE will have to stop collecting union dues from Fizer, this does not affect any other workers or require OAPSE to change its policies about its “escape window” because the judge did not have to issue a ruling on the policy’s legality.

Thomas C. Drabick, Jr., the director of legal services for OAPSE, told The Center Square that “the case is settled” and declined to answer questions about the settlement agreement or how it will affect the union’s policies going forward.

Fizer was represented by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation (NRTW).

Patrick Semmens, who is a vice president at the foundation, told The Center Square via email that the settlement further demonstrates that these policies are illegal.

“This victory and other victories like it affirm that the First Amendment Janus rights of public sector workers can’t be blocked by schemes which essentially claim that those rights can be limited to just a few days every year or few years,” Semmens said. “We encourage employees who experience such restrictions on their Janus rights to contact the Foundation for free legal aid so they can defend themselves from these coercive tactics.”

NRTW had won settlement money for other workers that were forced to pay union dues because they missed the “escape window” period. However, the courts have not set clear precedent one way or the other in regards to the legality of such policies.