Palatine District 15 mechanic sues for refund of union dues

Citing a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision from last summer, a Palatine Township Elementary District 15 diesel mechanic is suing his former union and the district for a refund of dues he says he paid unwillingly.

Erich Mandel, a Palatine resident, contends in the federal lawsuit that he had no choice but to join Service Employees International Union Local 73 when he started his District 15 transportation department job on July 31, 2013. Mandel's suit states he joined because he'd be required to pay union fees even as a nonmember.

The litigation is part of an early wave of similar cases that have been filed in Hawaii, New Mexico and California as a result of the Supreme Court's Janus v. AFSCME ruling that said public sector unions cannot require nonmembers to pay dues.

Mandel and the plaintiffs in the other three states are being represented by the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center.

"And we'll likely be filing in other states, too," said Jeffrey Schwab, Mandel's attorney.

Service Employees International Union Local 73 attorneys contend in court documents that Mandel joined voluntarily and signed a union card when he was under no obligation to do so.

Mandel informed District 15 and SEIU that he was quitting the union a couple of months after the June 27 Janus ruling, which stemmed from a case pitting an Illinois state worker against the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

"If Mr. Mandel had a choice between paying union dues and being a member of the union or paying nothing and not being a union member, he would have chosen to pay nothing as a nonmember," the suit states. "Instead, Mr. Mandel was given a choice to pay full union dues or pay an agency fee, which constituted a substantial sum of the full union dues."

Schwab filed court documents Jan. 28 that say SEIU refunded a portion of his client's dues and the district stopped collecting fees, only after Mandel filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Chicago. Mandel no longer is considered a union member, Schwab said.

But Mandel still is demanding a refund of dues collected after he became a member. Due to a statute of limitations cited by the union that won't be contested, Schwab said, Mandel could be entitled to a refund going back to December 2016.

Mandel contends District 15 continued deducting about $46 per month from his check on behalf of the union and was violating his First Amendment rights when his lawsuit was filed six months after the Supreme Court decision.

District 15's lawyers in court documents have provided seven affirmative and separate defenses in response to Mandel's complaint, including that the school system acted in good faith and is immune from liability. District 15 also says it is "entitled to indemnification from the union for any and all relief the plaintiff obtains against the district."

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Attorney Jeffrey Schwab is representing a Palatine Township Elementary District 15 diesel mechanic who is seeking a refund of union dues he says he paid unwillingly. Courtesy of Liberty Justice Center
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