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Lawsuit Against Ohio Teachers' Union Latest Salvo in Anti-Union Campaign

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Friday, August 5, 2011 at 5:57 PM

Protesters against Senate Bill 5 display their signs during a rally February 22, 2011 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio.

Fifteen Ohio public-school teachers filed a federal class-action suit against the Ohio Education Association and its regional affiliates yesterday, claiming that paying union dues violates their civil rights.

The suit is part of an effort by Ohio Republicans to reduce the power of public-sector unions. It comes as unions and GOP supporters face off in a campaign to repeal a bill that would sharply limit collective bargaining for public employee unions.

The teachers filing the suit are not union members, but pay money to the union as allowed under laws intended to prevent workers from benefiting from union activities without paying for them. The group providing support for the lawsuit, the National Right to Work Foundation, opposes "compulsory unionism in any form," including "closed" or "agency" shops.

The teachers are represented by Donald Brey, who has served as counsel to Governor John Kasich and numerous other Republican candidates and committees. Brey was not available for comment late Friday afternoon.

In their suit, the teachers claim that the Ohio teachers' union is using those collected fees for political activities, which is not allowed, and that the regional affiliates are charging them a a fee without providing them copies of an independently audited financial statement to verify the fee's calculation. The teachers claim in the suit that:

Each year, Defendant OEA uses portions of the union-determined forced fees from Plaintiffs and the members of the first class for purposes that exceed the propriety of the fee under Ohio R.C. § 4117.09 and are not “germane” to collective bargaining activity, are not justified by the government’s policy interest in “labor peace” and avoiding “free riders,” or significantly add to the burdening of free speech that is inherent in the allowance of an “agency shop.”

The teachers are asking the court to:

  • Certify their case as a class-action suit;
  • Rule that the union's collection of compulsory fees from non-members violates teachers' rights because teachers have been required to pay those fees for constitutionally nonchargeable purposes;
  • Award damages at least in the amount of the portion of the union fees paid; and
  • Bar the union from requiring nonmembers to pay union fees unless the fee amount is based on audit that ensures the fees will not be spent on political or other non-allowable activities.

The Ohio Education Association referred questions about the lawsuit to General Counsel Linda Fiely. Fiely did not return calls on Friday.

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