July/August 2020 Issue
June 13, 2020

Courts reject another attempt to bankrupt unions

Author: By Michael Del Piano and Edward Greene Jr.
Source: NYSUT United
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Score another victory for organized labor. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York rejected repayment claims for agency fees paid prior to the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision and dismissed a thinly veiled attempt to extort funds from NYSUT and its affiliate locals.

Pellegrino, et al. v. New York State United Teachers, et al. was a statewide class action lawsuit for repayment of agency fees filed by two teachers — one seeking to represent a class of agency fee payers and the other seeking to represent a class of members who were allegedly coerced into joining their local unions because of the agency fee statutes.

Pellegrino was one of at least 30 similar lawsuits against public sector unions filed around the country. “These suits are part of a larger coordinated effort by anti-labor groups that want unions to spend the time and money to defend them so they can defund and distract us,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “This decision sends them a clear message: After Janus, unions are stronger than ever. The voice of working people will not be silenced.”

For decades prior to the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision, public sector unions in New York State collected agency fee payments from nonmembers, as authorized by New York’s Taylor Law and under a system that had been held constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in numerous decisions handed down by the Court over the past 30 years. In dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims in Pellegrino, the District Court held that a union cannot be held liable for relying, in good faith, on a state law and Supreme Court precedents presumed to be valid.

The decision represents a major victory in the fight against forces that seek to financially cripple public sector unions and silence the voice of working people.

The Eastern District became the second federal district court in New York to apply the good faith defense to public sector unions who collected agency fees prior to Janus. Federal Courts of Appeals in the Second, Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits have ruled the same in similar lawsuits.

As expected, following the ruling Pellegrino plaintiffs filed an appeal to the U.S. Courts of Appeals, Second Circuit. The ultimate goal of these anti-union forces is to get back to the U.S. Supreme Court. The unions were represented by NYSUT’s Office of General Counsel attorneys Michael J. Del Piano, Esq., Edward J. Greene Jr., Esq. and Andrea A. Wanner, Esq., along with private attorneys.

No time for union busters

Workers around the state continue to grapple with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. They are grieving the unimaginable loss of family members, friends and neighbors to the virus; lost jobs; facing food insecurity; and managing the continuing emotional and mental fallout from social isolation.

Meanwhile, those who seek to weaken workers rights are not letting up.

Their goal now is to convince working families that opting out of the union is in their best interest. It’s not. The relentless attacks on organized labor are about the rich getting richer at the expense of the working class.

Our union will continue to stand for all workers. We will continue to fight for the resources public schools and higher education institutions, public hospitals and every New York citizen needs and deserves.

Are you ready when the anti-union forces come knocking? Let them know yours is a strong union household.

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