2 CTU members fight union dues, file suit saying having only one month to opt out violates 1st amendment

The federal lawsuit by a pair of Chicago Public Schools employees says the union policy violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus vs. AFSCME ruling.

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Members of the Chicago Teachers Union rally during the teachers strike last fall.

Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Two Chicago Public Schools employees are challenging in federal court whether the Chicago Teachers Union can restrict its members to a one-month annual window for opting out of union dues.

Joanne Troesch and Ifeoma Nkemdi filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in federal court Monday. They cited the June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which said the First Amendment shields non-consenting public-sector employees from paying fees to a union.

The employees are being represented for free by staff attorneys for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, according to a news release.

Troesch and Nkemdi said they were not aware of their right not to support the Chicago Teachers Union until the teachers strike last October. That changed when they began to research ways to keep working during the strike, according to the lawsuit.

Each sent a letter in October to the union and the Chicago Board of Education, resigning their union membership and rescinding authorization for union dues or fees to be deducted from their wages, according to the lawsuit. However, the pair said the CTU responded with a letter in November, explaining the deduction of dues would continue until September.

That’s because the union only allows members to revoke that authorization between August 1 and August 31, according to the lawsuit. The policy appears on a membership application signed by both teachers in 2017, according to documents filed in the case.

The records identify Troesch as a tech coordinator and Nkemdi as a dance teacher.

The lawsuit challenges whether the CTU’s one-month period for dues revocations —referred to in the complaint as the “August escape period” —is valid under the First Amendment.

A CTU spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

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