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TUSD Accused of Trapping Employees in Public Sector Unions

January 31, 2023

By Terri Jo Neff |

The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is violating state and federal law by making it too difficult for its employees to leave a labor union, according to a Jan. 18 letter sent to district officials by the Goldwater Institute. 

Parker Jackson, staff attorney with the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute, advised TUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo that a review of five collective bargaining agreements revealed “alarming restrictions” which infringe on the rights of district employees.

“We request that the District immediately act to bring these agreements and policies and practices made pursuant to them into compliance with federal and state law,” Jackson wrote to Trujillo and the district’s governing board. 

At issue are memoranda of understanding (MOU) which TUSD has entered into with four labor organizations: the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 449, AFL-CIO (“AFSCME”); the Communications Workers of America (“CWA”); Educational Leaders, Inc. (“ELI”); and the Tucson Education Association (“TEA”) with which there are two agreements.

TUSD employees may freely join a union at any time, but an employee covered by one of the five agreements must receive authorization from union bosses before district officials will process a request to resign from the union. This is unlawful, Jackson wrote, as it restricts when an employee may terminate their union membership and halt union dues deductions from their paychecks.

And then there is the issue of deduction revocation windows and/or deadlines which Jackson’s letter says do not comport with federal or state law. District policies and practices further exacerbate the unconstitutional activity.

For instance, the MOU with AFSCME—which Jackson calls “the worst of the five agreements”—restricts membership cancellation and dues deduction revocations to only two weeks per year, from May 1 to May 15. Similarly, the CWA agreement only permits cancellation of membership and dues deductions in July, while the other MOUs have comparable revocation restrictions.

This often results in an employee revoking their consent to union membership, only to have TUSD continue to deduct dues from each paycheck until the next opt-out period commences or the current membership year ends.

“This is not only unfair and predatory—it is also unconstitutional,” Jackson contends. “An employee revocation is obviously evidence that an employee does not affirmatively consent to pay union dues.”

Jackson’s letter to Trujillo cites Arizona’s Right to Work laws, the U.S. and Arizona constitutions, and various court cases in making its arguments.

“In order to prevent ongoing and future unconstitutional activity, the District must immediately revoke or revise any MOU provision that includes a union dues opt-out period and any requirement that a labor union must approve an employee’s request to stop the deduction of union dues,” Parker wrote. “The District must also revise any policy and procedure that imposes these unconstitutional conditions.”

The Goldwater Institute, which is dedicated to upholding the constitutional rights of all citizens, is a public policy and public interest litigation organization. It frequently initiates lawsuits when government entities do not voluntarily change conduct.

“The Goldwater Institute will always defend the constitutional right of all citizens to associate—or not associate—with whatever private organizations they choose,” Parker said after making the TUSD letter public. “Restrictive dues deduction revocation windows and deadlines, of course, are designed to make it difficult for people to leave powerful labor organizations. Fortunately, the U.S. and Arizona constitutions protect workers and prohibit the school district and the unions’ money grab.”

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

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