Public employee sues union, state over union fees

In another lawsuit filed by a state worker aided by a national anti-union organization, an employee of the New Mexico Department of Information Technology is suing a public employees union and the state, saying it’s unconstitutional to require public employees who are not union members to pay part of the union’s collective bargaining costs through fees deducted from their wages.

The new complaint and one filed in early December by a Human Services Department employee both cite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June in a landmark labor case called Janus v. AFSCME, in which justices decided it’s a violation of the First Amendment to force public-sector workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

According to the suit filed last week in federal District Court, David McCutcheon, an information systems professional who worked for several years in Gov. Susana Martinez’s office, returned in 2017 to the Department of Information Technology, where money was automatically deducted from his paycheck for Communications Workers of America.

“On July 7, 2018, McCutcheon notified the union, in writing, that he did not consent to any deduction of union dues or fees from his wages,” the suit says. “A union official responded in writing by stating that the request had been ‘submitted for processing.’ Notwithstanding McCutcheon’s notification, in September, the state of New Mexico started deducting full union dues from McCutcheon’s wages without his consent.”

Union officials told McCutcheon that under its contract, he could only stop these deductions by revoking authorization during a two-week December “window period,” according to the complaint, which claims the requirement violates McCutcheon’s First Amendment rights.

The union’s membership paperwork does not inform employees that “they have a First Amendment right not to subsidize the union and its speech; or that, by signing the cards, they are waiving their First Amendment right to not subsidize the union and its speech,” the lawsuit says.

Donald Alire, president of the local CWA chapter, said Thursday he had not yet been served with the suit.

McCutcheon is being represented by the Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Foundation, a 50-year-old nonprofit. According to its website, the foundation’s mission “is to eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses.”

In early December, Brett Hendrickson of the New Mexico Human Services Department filed a similar suit with the aid of another conservative nonprofit, the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which represented Mark Janus of Illinois in the Janus v. AFSME case. Hendrickson’s suit is pending in federal court.

Relatively few workers in New Mexico are represented by unions or belong to them. As of 2017, about 63,000 workers — slightly more than 8 percent of the state’s workforce — had union representation. Only 6.7 percent, or 52,000, belonged to unions. That compares with 10.7 percent of workers nationwide who were union members in 2017 — a record low, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Updated: March 20, 2019 — 12:21 am