Illinois health care workers using Janus decision to ask for new hearing on forced dues refunds

ILLINOIS (IRN) — Home health-care workers in Illinois seeking reimbursement of union dues taken from them in recent years without their permission are asking a court to reconsider their case, opening up the union to potentially tens of millions of dollars in refunds.

Local home health-care workers who were members of the Service Employees International Union were allowed to decline having union dues taken from them in 2014 regardless of their status with the union after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn. Since then, a number of the workers have been trying to recoup the dues from years before the decision but the courts have denied them a class action lawsuit that they estimate could cost the union up to $32 million.

As of Dec. 20, the National Right-to-Work Foundation,  a nonprofit legal foundation that represents the workers, is pressing for the appellate court to reconsider its denial for class action certification after the Supreme Court said last month that Janus v. AFSCME ruled workers have to opt in – not opt out – to having dues taken from them, or it’s a free-speech violation.

National Right to Work Vice President Patrick Semmens said the Supreme Court case means class action is appropriate.

“The Constitutional violation takes place any time money is taken without someone’s consent,” he said.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals could decide to rehear the case this month. If the workers get their money back, Semmens said it could start a chain of lawsuits against forced union dues across the country. The proposed class consists of more than 80,000 workers.

Lawsuits seeking back dues are pending in several other states.  

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that SEIU had illegally confiscated union dues from thousands of Illinois homecare providers, but the ruling challenged by this petition denies those same caregivers the opportunity to reclaim the money that never should have been taken from them by SEIU in the first place,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said.

Representatives from SEIU could not be reached for comment.

The statute of limitations on how far back the plaintiffs may be able to recoup dues paid into the unions varies by state, but Semmens said tort law generally allows for at least two years of damages to be awarded.