Federal judge enjoins Indiana laws on union dues deductions for teachers

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A federal judge has blocked Indiana laws that require teachers and school corporations to comply with new procedures to authorize the deduction of union dues from their paychecks.

United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled Thursday that the state was permanently enjoined from enforcing 2021’s Senate Enrolled Act 251 and 2022’s Senate Enrolled Act 297.  

A group of teachers unions challenged SEA 251 and SEA 297 in court on grounds that those statutory requirements violated teachers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of association and free speech.

In her ruling, Barker denied the plaintiffs’ motions for oral argument and for summary judgment and permanent injunction as it pertained to their free speech claim.

However, she also granted a motion for summary judgment on the unions’ First Amendment freedom of association claim.

“Given the serious underinclusivity of SEA 251 and SEA 297, the State has failed to show that the challenged statutes are narrowly tailored to further its interest either in furthering educational goals to benefit students in our public schools or in complying with Janus, including ensuring ‘individuals are aware of their rights before they opt-in to union membership and execute a wage assignment,’” Barker wrote, referencing Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 244 (2018). “Accordingly, we hold that the challenged statutes cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Three teacher unions filed their original lawsuit in June 2021, requesting a preliminary injunction on the then-recently enacted SEA 251.

Unions representing teachers with the Anderson, Avon and Martinsville school districts and the teachers who lead them filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. It contended the law, which was scheduled to take effect in July 2021, unfairly targeted teachers and made it harder for their unions to collect dues.

The law created a new process for the collection of teachers union dues and required teachers to annually complete a three-step process to have union dues deducted from their paychecks.

Barker issued a preliminary injunction weeks later, ruling that the law violated educators’ free speech rights, and that it “substantially impairs” existing contracts between school corporations and teachers unions that allow for dues to be withdrawn from teachers’ paychecks.

Barker added that Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, the named defendant, did not adequately justify the new annual three-step process for the collection of teachers union dues, including a requirement that school districts send an email to all employees who have union dues deductions with a boldface message in 14-point type that they have the right to not join the union and may stop their paycheck deduction at any time.

Following the preliminary injunction ruling, the Legislature amended the statute at issue by passing SEA 297 in 2022. The amendment made the requirements of SEA 251 applicable to collective bargaining agreements or contracts entered, renewed, modified, extended or amended after June 30, 2022.

In her ruling Thursday, Barker said SEA 251 and SEA 297 were written to apply solely to teachers choosing to pay their union dues through payroll deduction, not to any other category of public employee in Indiana.

Barker also said the state does not provide and explanation for teachers being more in need of an advisement of their First Amendment rights with respect to payroll deductions for union dues compared to other public sector employees.

The case is Anderson Federation of Teachers, et.al. v.  Todd Rokita, 1:21-cv-01767.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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