The Labor and Public Employees Committee has filed a bill designed to push back against the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME that allows public sector employees to opt out of union membership without being forced to pay union fees.
An Act Concerning the Right of a Public Employee to Join or Support a Union would codify union dues authorizations into state law, which essentially establish window of time when an employee can stop paying dues regardless whether or not they remain a union member.
The bill also guarantees union representatives access to new employee orientations and prevents the state from providing employee data to outside organizations that might encourage employees to resign from the union.
The same legislation passed out of the Labor Committee and passed in the House of Representatives in 2019 but was never taken up in the Senate.
Union dues authorizations, which are outlined on union membership cards, was the source of at least one federal lawsuit in Connecticut as union officials attempted to force workers who resigned to continue paying dues.
Two women were told by a union president that although they were no longer union members, they had to continue paying union dues and were no longer invited to the union holiday party. The case was recently settled.
Union leadership argues that the membership cards constitute a signed contract to continue paying dues until a set period of time.
However, opponents say the windows are not legally enforceable, and, in the case of membership cards signed before the 2018 Supreme Court decision, employees had no choice but to pay fees.
In an added twist, the legislation states the union does not have to show proof to the state that an employee has chosen to become a union member and that the state must rely on guidance from the union.
That is already current practice for the state of Connecticut and at least one union filed a complaint with the State Board of Labor Relations when the town of Wallingford stopped deducting dues from employees who resigned membership without approval by the union.
The Janus decision, however, said that a public employee must give “affirmative consent” showing the employee has opted into union membership before union dues can be deducted.
The opt-in language of the Janus decision spurred Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy to issue an executive order requiring all public employees to sign a waiver asking that union dues be deducted from their paychecks. The order came after Alaska Attorney General Kevin G. Clarkson said the state could not rely on union officials to provide membership information.
The public employee unions in Alaska have filed suit against the order.
The 14-member Labor Committee – which has cognizance over legislation affecting wages, workplace hours, union issues and anything affected the Department of Labor — has six current or former union officials serving on the committee.
Both committee co-chairs are former union employees. Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, was a regional director for the United Auto Workers, and Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, was an employee of the Communications Workers of America.
The other current and former union officials and employees include Rep. Joshua Hall, D-Hartford, who currently works as vice president for the Hartford Federation of Teachers; Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who was a union president with the Department of Correction; Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, who is a former teachers’ union official and Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Windsor, who is a former president of the Administrative & Residual public employees union.
The Janus decision cost Connecticut’s public sector unions millions in nonmember fees — known as agency fees — after the Connecticut Comptroller’s Office stopped deducting the fees to comply with the law.
Union officials, however, say they have attracted and retained more members.
In 2019, 608 more state employees were added into new or existing bargaining units, which included attorneys, deputy wardens and some managers and union officials are trying to make in-roads into unionizing more managers.
Ninety-four percent of the state employee workforce currently belongs to a union.