‘The Town and the IBPO could have avoided the years and expense of litigation if they had only listened in 2014…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Five Rhode Island police officers won more than $110,000 in a settlement after a five-year lawsuit over forced union dues.
The case against the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 503 and the Town of Westerly complained that the officers had been subjected to illegal dues of $5 per hour, even though they were not members of the union.
It also said town officials “unconstitutionally retaliated against the officers, after they publicly voiced opposition to the policy, by implementing a plan to restrict their hours, and even firing two of the officers,” according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which offered free legal representation.
“The Foundation is proud to stand with them and all public servants who are targeted with intimidation, misinformation, threats of firing, and other illegal tactics simply to keep dues money flowing into the bank accounts of self-interested union officials,” said NRTW Foundation President Mark Mix.
Mix noted that the dues scheme was “always blatantly illegal” but that the case became even stronger three years into litigation, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME no public employees could be subjected to compulsory union dues as a matter of free speech. NRTW also offered counsel to Illinois school employee Mark Janus in the eponymous 2018 decision.
However, many labor unions have continued to resist the ruling and have sought legal loopholes to circumvent it.
“Even with the added protection provided by the Janus decision, Rhode Island legislators should look to these and other examples of union boss malfeasance as examples of why all Ocean State workers—public or private—need Right to Work protections to ensure that union membership and financial support are strictly voluntary,” Mix said.
The Westerly settlement included $65,000 in union-dues refunds, as well as $48,000 in back pay for officers Scott Ferrigno and Darrell Koza, who were fired in retaliation for pressing the complaint.
Their case outlined the dismissive treatment of town officials, who expected the officers to back down or run out of financial resources. “They can always go to McDonald’s,” said one town official during a meeting, according to NRTW.
The breakthrough came in a Feb. 6, 2020 ruling, in which the U.S. District Court issued a permanent injunction against the union’s ongoing effort to force involuntary fees.
“The Town and the IBPO could have avoided the years and expense of litigation if they had only listened in 2014 when we first tried to tell them that they cannot just take $5 per hour from our pay and give it to the Union without our permission,” said Officer Thomas Cimalore, another of the five plaintiffs.
“We did all we could to avoid bringing a lawsuit,” he added. “We made repeated unsuccessful attempts to present these issues to the sitting Town Council.”