'Janus' opens door to lawsuit against 'exclusive' faculty union

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, a professor is suing St. Cloud State University for discriminating against professors who do not belong to the exclusive faculty union.

Kathleen Uradnik, a political science professor at St. Cloud, believes her First Amendment rights were violated due to her forced representation by a union she does not support. Although Uradnik is not a member of the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO), the university designates that union as faculty members’ “exclusive representative,” according to the lawsuit

The lawsuit names St. Cloud, the IFO, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees as defendants, asking the court to invalidate the union’s exclusive status and bar the defendants from “discriminating against non-members of the Union.”

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The lawsuit alleges that this forced representation not only deprives Uradnik and others like her of the right to petition the government on their own behalf, but also compels them to accept a contract that gives “special preferences” to union members that “tilt the scales in union members’ favor in such matters as tenure and promotion decisions.”

For instance, the IFO has the exclusive right to appoint faculty members to “System-level committees,” which oversee things like tenure, workload expectations for faculty, establishing endowed chairs, awarding funds for professional improvement, establishing departments and department chairs, and more.

“This system unlawfully allocates state-granted benefits and state-imposed burdens on the basis of political association,” the lawsuit contends. “That scheme, too, violates the First Amendment.”

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Uradnik is being represented by the Buckeye Institute, a non-partisan research and education organization that advocates in favor of the free-market.

“The Janus [Supreme Court of the United States] decision was an important victory for hardworking public servants across the country, but many of these same employees are still forced to accept their union’s representation that they didn’t ask for and do not want,” Robert Alt, chief executive officer and president of the Buckeye Institute, stated in a press release.

“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,” Alt added.

The press release argues that the IFO has “created a system that discriminates against non-union faculty members by barring them from serving on any faculty search, service, or governance committee, and even bars them from joining the Faculty Senate,” asserting that “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.”

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The Buckeye Institute claims that the recent Janus decision sets a precedent for the courts to “recognize public employees’ First Amendment right to free association and to end the forced exclusive representation.”

The Janus ruling, issued in June, determined that public employee unions cannot force non-members to pay union dues, reasoning that the practice violates their rights to free speech and association by compelling non-members to financially support a union’s political speech.

The IFO, unsurprisingly, views Janus in a much more negative light, and describes Uradnik’s lawsuit as the continuation of a coordinated campaign to destroy labor unions.

“This lawsuit is part of a nationally coordinated strategy by powerful forces aiming to destroy collective bargaining,” the IFO wrote in a press release. “It is a direct attack on our shared values and collective voice. United, we are powerful advocates—and our solidarity threatens the national anti-labor organizations behind these attacks.”

“Our members know that a strong faculty union is vital to the success of our students and communities,” the statement continues. “In the face of these attacks, we stand united and will continue our mission of providing an extraordinary education that is accessible and affordable for all.”

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While St. Cloud did not elaborate on the case, spokesman Adam Hammer told Campus Reform that the outcome, whatever it may be, “will have no impact on the constructive relationship we have with our faculty and staff, the labor unions that represent them, or our shared commitment to the success of our students.”

Campus Reform reached out to Uradnik and was directed to speak with the Buckeye Institute. The IFO has not responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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