INDIANAPOLIS (CN) — A federal court in Indiana on Thursday blocked a pair of laws that opponents claim unfairly targeted teachers by making it more difficult for them to pay their union dues.
Passed in early 2021, Senate Bill 251 required teachers to go through a specific — and what critics described as a more burdensome — process to authorize union due deductions annually and required schools to annually notify employees of their right to withdraw from a union.
In June 2021 a group of school employees and their unions sued, claiming the law should be blocked because it unfairly targets teachers.
“For teachers, and only teachers, SEA 251 replaces the existing dues deduction system with a time limitation of one year for a duly authorized dues deduction, as well as an entirely unnecessary and onerous three step process that makes it more difficult for teachers to support their organizations by paying their union dues and makes it more difficult for the unions to maintain their representational vitality because it requires them to expend more time and resources to collect the dues,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit listed Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, and Chair of the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board Tammy Meyer as defendants.
Two weeks after the initial filing, U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Barker blocked the law, prompting the Indiana General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 29, which changed some of the authorization language found in SEA 251.
The plaintiffs then amended their complaint in June 2022 to include SEA 297 in their claims.
In her new 34-page ruling, Barker ruled that both SEA 251 and SEA 297 violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to freely associate and she issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the laws.
Barker found that the laws unfairly target one group — union supporting teachers — and forced upon them additional steps to participate in a payroll deduction process for union dues.
"No other individual or occupation in Indiana faces the additional burdensome, bureaucratic obstacles to use of the State's payroll deduction procedures faced by teachers seeking to belong to their union," Barker wrote.
“Rather, here, the State in singling out one specific group whose identity and viewpoints are sufficiently intertwined to be synonymous, and to require that group and only that group to jump through additional hoops and move through complex bureaucratic 'mother may I'-type steps in order to access the payroll dues deduction process for union dues seems to have done so based on this group's specific purposes and views,” Barker added. “Accordingly, we hold that SEA 251 and SEA 297 do, indeed, discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.”
Barker did reject the plaintiff’s free speech claim, which argued that the required dues deduction authorization agreement was compelling their speech.
The authorization agreement required teachers to acknowledge that they understand they have the right to refrain from paying union dues and that their membership in the union is strictly voluntary. The statements in the authorization agreement were changed with the passage of SEA 29, and Barker said those alterations alleviated the free speech issue.
“Upon careful review of the challenged advisement required here, we find that it no longer requires Plaintiffs to adopt or otherwise affiliate with the State's union membership statement,” Barker wrote.
The judge did leave the door open to challenging the language again by noting that the court had not been shown a draft of the form with the updated language from SEA 297 and noted that depending on formatting, the issue could possibly be raised again.
The Indiana Attorney General's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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