Nonunion Chicago educators sue CTU, AFT to end forced union dues

Nonunion Chicago educators sue CTU, AFT to end forced union dues

While members can opt out of CTU at any time, the union says they may only stop paying the union if they do so during a one-month period. A lawsuit filed against the union argues this violates teachers’ First Amendment rights.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s collection of union dues from workers who’ve disassociated from the union is an infringement on employees’ First Amendment rights, a new federal lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit names as defendants the CTU and American Federation of Teachers, for creating unconstitutional barriers to ending union payments, and the Chicago Board of Education, for continuing to deduct those funds from education workers on the unions’ behalf. It was filed May 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Ifeoma Nkemdi, who teaches at Newberry Math and Science Academy, and Joanne Troesch, a technology coordinator at Jones College Prep, are the two plaintiffs named in the filing. The intention is to turn the case into a class-action lawsuit, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Despite having cut ties with CTU, the board has continued to deduct money from Nkemdi and Troesch’s paychecks on behalf of the union. That’s because while educators may leave the union at any time, the CTU only allows workers to stop paying them if they opt out during a strict, one-month window in August.

The lawsuit argues that the practice violates employees’ constitutional right not to be forced to financially support union speech, activities and political affiliations with which they may disagree.

Explaining her displeasure with CTU leadership last year, Nkemdi told the Illinois Policy Institute, “I started to look at my values more … I started to [think], ‘Why are you telling us what to do when we’re the ones paying you? You’re giving us directives and orders like this is a second employer.’ That’s where I drew the line.”

CTU attorney Robert Bloch dismissed the complaint as “anti-worker,” “Koch-funded” and “right-wing,” according to the Tribune.

The 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which the lawsuit cites, ruled that government employers cannot take money from public servants on behalf of unions unless having first been given “affirmative consent.”

Nkemdi and Troesch broke with CTU in 2019 over the union’s decision to strike for the third time in seven years amid a contract dispute with Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. CTU that year had donated over $291,000 to Lightfoot’s mayoral challenger, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle. The union did not contribute any money to Lightfoot’s campaign.

Nkemdi, who had at one time been actively involved with CTU, crossed the picket line during the 2019 strike. Both Nkemdi and Troesch were “found guilty” of breaching the union’s strike policy, according to correspondence from the CTU executive board obtained by the Tribune.

“I don’t believe in any system that keeps children away from education, children that are already underserved, disenfranchised,” Nkemdi told the Institute at the time. “I think they taught a very horrible lesson to the children about going to war with people that don’t agree with you. I decided to [cross the picket line]. [The strike] didn’t fit with the values that I have.”

According to the Tribune, the lawsuit seeks “damages, costs and attorneys’ fees,” and a guarantee that nonunion education workers will be relieved of forced union payments at the time of resignation – as opposed to the time of CTU’s choosing.

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