Las Vegas policewoman asks Supreme Court to compel union to return forced dues payments

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A Las Vegas police officer who opposes the local police union is asking the Supreme Court to review her claim that the bargaining unit illegally extracted dues money from her paycheck.

The case is one in a series of lawsuits that have arisen in light of the Supreme Court’s landmark 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, a decision that threw a wrench in how unions finance their operations. In that decision, the high court held, among other things, that public-sector workers have a constitutionally protected First Amendment right to refuse to join or subsidize a union.

The court reasoned, in the words of Justice Samuel Alito, that compelling non-union workers to fork over union dues as an employment condition “violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

But now unions across the country are finding ways to go around the ruling, her lawyers say.

Petitioner Melodie DePierro says that officials of the union, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, took money out of her paycheck because she failed to opt out during a brief “window period” specified in the union contract, during which police officers may withdraw their financial support from the union. But DePierro says she never agreed to nor was she ever informed of the window period provision.

DePierro had been a member of the union since 2006 but resigned in 2020 and revoked any authorization for her employer, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, to deduct union dues from her wages. The window period provision was added to the contract in 2019, a year after the Janus ruling was handed down.

The department and the union ignored her wishes and continued to take dues from her paychecks, according to the petition (pdf) in the case, DePierro v. Las Vegas Police Protective Association Metro Inc., court file 22-494, that was docketed Nov. 23. The case is an appeal of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which decided against DiPierro.

“[I]f employee consent is not required, governments and unions can, and will … devise and enforce onerous restrictions on when employees can stop subsidizing union speech,” the petition states.

First Amendment Protections

National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix, whose group is representing DePierro in the appeal, said her rights are being violated.

“Janus’ First Amendment protections are meant to ensure that workers are not being forced to subsidize union bosses of whom they disapprove, whether based on union officials’ ineffectiveness, political activities, divisive conduct in the workplace, or any other reason,” Mix said.

“Union officials’ defense of schemes that siphon money out of unwilling workers’ paychecks sends a clear message that they value dues revenue over the constitutional rights of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’”

In DePierro’s case, “the union is saying ‘screw you, we’re not going to abide by Janus, we’re not going to let you get out,’” Mix told The Epoch Times in an interview.

Now, these window period provisions are popping up all over the country “because the unions know they can get away with it,” he said.

For example, in New Jersey, the state legislature passed legislation establishing a window period of 10 days, which means “if you didn’t get out in 10 days, you were in and had money taken through your paycheck for the next 355 days,” he said.

The Janus precedent holds that “no one can be forced to pay dues or fees in order to keep their job, and before you take any money from anyone, you have to have a signed affirmative consent by that employee,” Mix said.

But in the years since Janus, many unions “went for some kind of way to get around it and work around the First Amendment,” he said.

The Epoch Times reached out to the union for comment but had not received a reply as of press time. Another respondent in the case, DePierro’s employer, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said in an email that the department “does not comment on pending litigation.”

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Nov. 24, 2022, in The Epoch Times.