By Jason Hart | Ohio Watchdog
Ohio’s largest labor union will issue partial fee refunds and reduce mandatory “fair share” fees taken from teachers under a class-action settlement approved by a federal judge on Sept. 9.
The settlement, which affects nonmembers of Ohio Education Association covered by the union’s contracts in public schools across the state, was more than three years in the making. Thousands of current and former teachers are eligible for refunds, and tens of thousands of future teachers could see fee reductions until 2040.
National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation represented Green Local School District teacher Kathleen Thaxton and 13 other current and former teachers who declined OEA membership. The teachers’ complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in August 2011.
Not only will the case impact OEA’s bottom line for decades, it could have implications for other labor unions across the state.
“It is not unusual at all for a union to not be following the procedures that the Supreme Court has laid out in (the legal cases) Abood and Hudson, which are the cases that led to this class-action lawsuit and ultimately the settlement on behalf of these teachers,” NRTW Vice President for Public Information Patrick Semmens told Watchdog.org.
In Ohio and other states without right-to-work laws, workers can be forced to pay fair share fees to alabor union and may dispute the “chargeable” portion of the mandatory fees by submitting a written complaint.
“We often find that, whether deliberately or unintentionally, union officials tend to cut corners a lot when it comes to deciding how much to charge nonmembers,” Semmens said.
“It’s an argument, we think, for right to work, because right to Wwork makes it very simple. You have a right-to-work law, the choice is: pay the full amount if you want, pay nothing if you don’t want to support the union. You don’t have to go through the often complicated and cumbersome process of Hudson notice, ability to object, and all that sort of thing.”
Semmens said without right-to-work laws, “Someone can resign from the union and officially become a nonmember, but they then have to take additional, proactive measures to pay only the lowest amount that they can legally be required to pay.” He said the Supreme Court’s 2012 Knox v. SEIU decision supports the notion that unions should have to get permission to take certain fees, instead of making workers opt out to keep their money.
The plaintiffs in Thaxton et al v. OEA et al asserted that OEA and 11 of its regional districts failed to properly audit expenses while unconstitutionally using forced dues for nonchargeable activities including public relations, union organizing and lobbying not related to their collective-bargaining agreements.
“Far too often, employees are being charged too much money, because union officials have an incentive to do that,” Semmens said.
OEA initially asked the court to dismiss the teachers’ complaint, pointing out that certain union expenses formerly treated as chargeable were reclassified as nonchargeable and refunded to nonmembers after the complaint was filed.
By August 2013, the parties had come to terms on a proposed class-action settlement — the second major settlement agreed to by OEA since early 2010. In Prater et al v. OEA, the union agreed to pay millions to retired employees whose health benefits the union had dropped.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Watson approved the Thaxton settlement agreement last week after considering testimony given by an objector at a July 1 hearing. OEA, which had 119,818 members as of Aug. 31, 2013, notified more than 3,000 class members of the pending settlement in April.
Under the agreement, teachers and other school staff who objected to OEA fair share fees at any point between the 2009-2010 and 2012-2013 school years are eligible for prorated refunds equal to 8.5 percent of OEA’s member dues for each year.
From the current school year until the 2039-2040 school year, OEA has agreed to reduce its chargeable fee by 1.5 percent of regular dues for all fair-share payers who submit objections by mid-January each year.
The 11 OEA districts named in the lawsuit will issue $1 yearly refunds to objecting fair-share fee payers for the 2009-2010, 2010-2011, and 2011-2012 school years, and will treat all expenses as nonchargeable for fair share fee objectors until the 2039-2040 school year.