(CINCINNATI, Ohio) — Likely sensing imminent defeat, leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Ohio Council 8 have instructed their attorneys to settle a lawsuit filed earlier this year accusing the city of Cincinnati and union of stealing vacation time from Cincinnati public employees.
Margaret Lascano, a medical assistant employed by the city, terminated her union membership and dues deductions last July but, citing a provision included in its 2019 collective bargaining agreement with the city of Cincinnati, AFSCME Council 8 still required her to donate up to four hours of vacation time every year to a so-called “union release time bank.”
Lascano also sought to represent more than 100 other nonunion employees from whom the city and union wrongfully took vacation time.
Transferred employee vacation hours are withdrawn from the “bank” for use by AFSCME officers when they transact “union business” — including attending AFSCME conventions, organizing activities and collective bargaining agreement administration — on the taxpayers’ time.
Under terms of the settlement, the union admits no wrongdoing but agrees to refund all vacation hours taken from Lascano since she resigned her union membership, and from other nonmembers since February 2020.
The city and union also agreed going forward to cease further deductions from all nonmembers.
Like most collective bargaining agreements in the public sector, AFSCME’s deal with the city of Cincinnati includes a provision designating the union as the sole representative for every worker in the bargaining unit, even those who have successfully opted out and no longer pay dues or fees.
Lascano’s constitutional right to opt out of union membership and dues was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.
“The court was unambiguous,” said James Abernathy, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation, which teamed up with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, to represent Lascano in the lawsuit. “Compelling public employees to join or financially support an organization whose ideals they disagree with is a violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech and association.”
With thousands of government employees around the country opting out in the wake of Janus, however, unions are scrambling for ways to make up for millions of dollars in lost revenue. Confiscating vacation hours is just one of the schemes they use.
“With this favorable settlement for Ms. Lascano, yet another scheme to circumvent Janus and force public workers to subsidize union activities in violation of the First Amendment has bitten the dust,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation.
Mix continued, “While we’re pleased that Ms. Lascano and her colleagues will finally see the return of their hard-earned vacation time, it’s ridiculous that union officials’ focus has been on creating new coercive schemes to make workers prop up a union agenda rather than winning workers’ support voluntarily.”
“Janus prevents unions from forcibly deducting dues money or fees, but this litigation sought to properly apply Janus to other forms of compelled union support as well,” Abernathy concluded. “By agreeing to a settlement instead of going to trial, the union may argue that question remains undecided. But litigating that question evidently wasn’t a risk AFSCME was willing to take.”