Ohio's largest teachers union has agreed to reimburse almost 3,000 non-union members who claim the money they were forced to pay in dues went to political purposes.
The lawsuit, filed by 14 public school teachers against the Ohio Education Association (OEA) in 2011, was settled in court under US District Court Judge Michael H Watson of Columbus, who ordered a refund of union fees that teachers were told to pay even when they did not join the union.
The OEA will pay $91,860 to 2,861 union-represented school employees. The amounts range from $1-40 for each staff member. The union will also pay the $175,000 in legal fees the employees incurred during the lawsuit.
The agreement also states that the union will reduce fees for non-members in coming years.
"It's important to note that the court made no findings on the claims raised by either party," Cheryl Mathis, OEA executive director, said in a statement. "The issues raised in this case are not settled law, and the decision to reach a mutually acceptable agreement was driven by a desire to avoid additional legal fees. Any attempt to declare victory by any party is pure political spin."
The lawsuit claimed the OEA violated the employees' freedom of speech by spending fee monies on political activities, siting a US Supreme Court ruling that stated it was in violation of the First Amendment to force teachers to pay dues for "union boss politics."
The teachers also argued that the OEA collected fees without giving them a written statement for the intentions associated with the money being collected. Money collected from nonmembers may not be used for political or member-only activities.
The National Right to Work Foundation will use the outcome to lobby for other laws, which allow employees to obtain union-protected jobs without becoming members or paying annual dues.
"OEA union officials have a long history of abusing teachers' rights in the workplace to fund their political coffers," Mark Mix, the foundation's president, said in a released statement. "We applaud these teachers' commitment to defending their and other Ohio teachers' rights in this case."â¨He added, "This case underscores the need for Ohio to pass a right to work law protecting all of Ohio's workers."
According to Mix, the dues given to the OEA were used to help fund OEA's role in a campaign in 2011 that helped overturn Senate Bill 205 that would have taken away the bargaining associated with public-employee unions.
Also included in that bill was a measure that would have cancelled "forced due payments" for teachers.
The union represents more than 121,000 educators and support staff. Almost $342,000 has been voluntarily offered to the union in support of its political activities, which have typically been in support of pro-labor Democrats.