The state has quietly settled a suit that challenged what critics claim was a policy permitting a labor union to collect dues from state employees who choose not to be union members.
The settlement, approved Wednesday by a federal judge in Hartford, requires the state and its principal public employees union to modify a payroll system that about 200 state employees claim violated their constitutional right not to participate in union activities
The employees who brought the class action suit are members of a bargaining unit of about 2,300 engineering, scientific and technical personnel. They were represented by the nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
The settlement, endorsed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant, ends what the plaintiffs called a decade-long grievance among non-union employees, but purposely avoids assigning legal liability for the way dues have been deducted in the past from state paychecks.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, whose office runs the state payroll system, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case and referred questions to state Attorney General George Jepsen. Jepsen’s staff referred questions about the suit’s allegations to the Connecticut State Employees Association. The union lawyer and a spokesman for the union did not respond to questions about the suit and settlement.
Stanley Juber, a state bridge engineer and lead plaintiff in the case, said the settlement was a victory for state employees who choose to opt out of unions and a repudiation of what he called an unconstitutional state law and payroll system that let the union structure payroll deductions.
Juber said the suit targeted a law he said remains on the books and requires non-union state employees to pay union dues. But he said the state and the union settled the suit before questions about the law’s constitutionality were reached.
“The statute that authorizes full union dues for non-members is unconstitutional,” Juber said. “Rather than deal with that issue, the state and the union sort of settled out of court and agreed to treat us as if we had won.”
Under the settlement, state employees who chose not to be union members can withdraw at any time. When they withdraw, the state will promptly stop deducting a full amount of union dues from their checks. The employees will be required to pay proportional dues to pay for the costs of collective bargaining by the union on workplace issues. But the employees will not be charged for union expenses such as lobbying and political activities.
Juber said the difference between proportional and full union dues is about $300 annually.
In the past, employees wishing to withdraw from union membership were allowed to do so only during a one month period each year. Those who failed to withdraw during the designated month were required to retain their membership and pay full dues.
The settlement complies with U.S. Supreme Court holdings on union membership and dues, according to Will Collins, of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Juber said the Supreme Court decisions are apparently at odds with state labor law, which reads in part:
“If an exclusive representative has been designated for the employees in an appropriate collective bargaining unit, each employee in such unit who is not a member of the exclusive representative shall be required, as a condition of continued employment, to pay to such organization for the period that it is the exclusive representative, an amount equal to the regular dues, fees and assessments that a member is charged.”