By Todd DeFeo
The Center Square

Four public employees in Ohio won a settlement in their federal class-action lawsuit against a union and the state, ending a policy that allowed public workers to stop paying union dues only during a limited window.

The workers filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, challenging a so-called “escape period,” which limited the timeframe when workers could withdraw from paying union dues. They named Council 11 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Gov. Mike DeWine and Matthew M. Damschroder, director of the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, as defendants in their complaint.

The four argued that limiting the window to decide to stop paying mandatory union dues was an illegal restriction on their First Amendment right. The United States Supreme Court recognized the right in a 2018 decision, Janus v. AFSCME, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which aided the employees.

DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost “need to move quickly to stop violations of the First Amendment rights of all Ohio public sector workers and should cease collecting union dues from any worker who has not affirmatively consented to pay them,” National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix said in a news release.

Under Ohio’s “maintenance of membership” policy, workers could only end union dues deductions during a period that opened roughly once every three years, according to the foundation. The policy applied to about 28,000 Buckeye State public workers in the state.

Under the settlement, state and AFSCME officials rescinded the “maintenance of membership” restriction. They must also grant requests to stop dues deductions from employees who signed an AFSCME dues authorization form.

The settlement also requires union officials to pay back about $4,000 in dues to the plaintiffs. Additionally, the union must refund payments to more than 150 other employees who tried to cut off union dues deductions after the Supreme Court ruling, but it was not immediately clear how much those refunds will total.

The ruling is the fourth the foundation has settled in favor of workers, according to a spokesman.

In January 2019, the National Right to Work Foundation won a settlement for seven Ohio public employees who filed a similar federal class-action lawsuit challenging AFSCME Council 8. The foundation subsequently helped two other Ohio public employees end “escape period” restrictions.

“Although this string of victories for Buckeye State public employees and their First Amendment rights is certainly encouraging, the widespread nature of these schemes shows there remains much work to do to force union bosses to end their unconstitutional restrictions on public employees’ First Amendment Janus rights,” Mix said.

Representatives for Yost, DeWine and AFSCME did not immediately respond to requests for comment.