Kathy Uradnik is not unlike thousands of other public employees across the United States.
She is a longtime professor at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. But over her 20-year career at the university she has been treated, she says, like a redheaded stepchild, a second-class employee.
She’s not allowed to sit on any faculty committees, cannot participate in the faculty governing process or do any of the out-of-class things she would like to do to help her students.
Why? Because she refuses to join a union, the Inter Faculty Organization, which has conspired with the university to deny her, and others like her, their basic rights.
But thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year, Uradnik and the many other public employees in her situation may soon get the same rights as their unionized colleagues.
Uradnik has hired the Buckeye Institute of Columbus, Ohio, to file suit against the union, the college, and the entire university system of Minnesota.
Uradnik’s case was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, with a motion for preliminary injunction filed July 31. She claims the forced union membership is an unconstitutional violation of her civil rights. A hearing was held on the latest motion Thursday, Sept. 20, in which both sides got to argue their cases before Judge Paul Magnuson.
Suits like these are going to pop up nationwide in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which ruled that it is a violation of government employees’ First Amendment rights to force them to pay fees to government unions, which then speak on behalf of these employees.
“These capable public servants have the right to speak for themselves and should be released from forced association with unions and advocacy with which they disagree,” said Robert Alt, president and chief executive of the Buckeye Institute.
Watch Kathy Uradnik tell her story in video below:
“I try every day in class to impress upon my students how important it is to stand up for your free-speech rights,” Uradnik says. “We filed suit, not to undermine unions but to empower individuals. After 20 years I’ve served on zero committees, solely because I’m a non-union member, and that’s really sad, because I think my students could have benefited from my participation and my desire to see them have a better experience here.
“We all deserve a voice and a choice.”
Read Uradnik’s opinion piece in the St. Cloud Times.
The First Amendment protects an individual’s right of free speech and association, the suit states, “including the rights not to speak and not to associate.”
The lawsuit further states:
For example, public employees who do not belong to a labor union ‘should not be required to fund a union’s political and ideological projects unless they choose to do so.’ Knox v. Serv. Employees Int’l Union, Local 1000, 567 U.S. 298, 315 (2012). Furthermore, ‘[b]ecause a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights.’”
The IFO union has created a two-tier, segregated system that discriminates against non-union faculty members, denying them their civil rights to full participation in university life, according to the Buckeye Institute. This second-class treatment of non-union faculty members impairs their ability to obtain tenure, to advance in their careers, and to participate in the academic life and governance of their institutions, said Alt.
The Ohio case involves Jade Thompson, a Spanish teacher at a public school in Marietta.
“I lost my voice,” she said. “I did not want to be a union member but it almost kept me from my job in Ohio.”
Warch Jade Thompson’s story below:
“You can choose your own cellphone plan, you can choose your own cable plan, right?” she said. “Why can’t you choose your professional association?”
Thompson’s teachers’ union, the Marietta Education Association or MEA, bargains for numerous policies with which she disagrees, including advocating for positions that resulted in cutting academic programs rather than allowing a reduction in fringe benefits, negotiating the exclusion of teachers who are not union members from key committees, and requiring seniority to be the sole substantive criteria in layoffs to the exclusion of any merit factors.
This attachment to seniority has become so absurd in Ohio public schools that in some district, like Marietta, any ties in seniority must be resolved via coin-flip, even if the tie is between a teacher-of-the-year and a low-performing teacher.
That’s why, Alt says, the Buckeye Institute has asked the court to immediately end the unfair and unconstitutional practice of exclusive representation, “which forces hardworking public employees like Professor Uradnik (and Thompson) to accept union representation they did not ask for and do not want.
“We look forward to Judge Magnuson’s ruling, but make no mistake – win or lose – this is not the end of the fight, but only the beginning,” he added. “For far too long, Professor Uradnik has had no alternative but to accept the forced representation of the Inter Faculty Association, a union that has undermined her ability to advance in her career and routinely interferes with her professional opportunities and relationships.”
As Uradnik wrote in the St. Cloud Times, “I did not make this decision lightly. I come from a blue collar, union family with a long tradition of union membership. Regrettably, however, unions like the IFO too often ‘represent’ their members by taking advantage of and discriminating against non-members like me.”
Read the entire lawsuit: Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Association, et al.
Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.