Kanawha County Circuit Judge Tera Salango sided with labor organizations Monday in their fight to preserve a long-standing method of collecting dues from their members.
House Bill 2009 would end the ability of most public employees to have their employers deduct union dues from paychecks, ceasing a practice that has been in place and widely-used for decades. The law was set to take effect Thursday — 90 days after it was signed by Gov. Jim Justice.
Salango granted a preliminary injunction after finding the unions would suffer “irreparable harm” without it.
In May, several labor groups filed separate lawsuits — which have now been consolidated into one — against Justice challenging the constitutionality of the legislation, which the governor signed into law March 30.
“Payroll deduction is the most effective and efficient method for public employees to share fairly in the financial support for the representational, public education and political activities of their unions,” the lawsuit says. “That is precisely why proponents of House Bill 2009 sought to ban it.”
Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, was the lead sponsor of the bill, which amended language in state Code to prohibit the deduction of dues from paychecks of public employees for purposes of going to a labor organization. Currently, a worker affiliated with such an organization can request for these dues to be deducted from their paychecks, with employers then directing the finances to respective labor groups on behalf of the worker.
Membership in labor unions is purely voluntary, and not all public employees are required to join or pay dues to them.
Called as a witness Monday, Fred Albert, president of the state arm of the American Federation of Teachers union, told the court that approximately 90% of his organization’s $3 million budget is generated from dues paid by members.
Albert noted the majority of his group’s members had not yet embraced an alternative method of paying dues, which could result in severe cuts to revenue. If the legislation were to take effect, he said, the union would have to look at making significant cuts in order to break even.
“It would be devastating to our members because they would suffer,” Albert said. “If we had to have layoffs of our staff, then we wouldn’t be able to represent our members as they are so deserving to be represented and as they’ve grown accustomed to being represented by AFT-WV. Bottom line is, our members would have suffered, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Elaine Harris, a representative of the Communications Workers of America, echoed Albert.
“We will still represent these people,” Harris said, “but it will put a financial hardship on our union.”
Private companies may still have union dues deducted from their paychecks, according to the lawsuit, as can public employees of municipalities covered by a collective bargaining agreement in effect on July 1.
“Notably, many other deductions — including those for private and public insurance, charitable organizations, credit unions, payroll savings plans and pension plans are still permitted,” the lawsuit says. “Petitioners and their members — as members of public employee unions — are denied the equal treatment of the law while other similarly, if not identically, situated employees are not.”
The lawsuit claims the bill was an attack on unions after instances of labor mobilization in recent years.
“We have said that all along, that this doesn’t do anything to improve education in West Virginia, but it is retaliatory against our unions,” Albert said. “It’s a method to try and bust unions. We have felt that all along.”
The labor organizations were represented by attorneys Jeffrey G. Blaydes and Robert M. Bastress Jr., while Justice was represented by Curtis Capehart and Virginia Payne of the state Attorney General’s Office.