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Teacher files suit to disengage from union

A teacher with Marietta City Schools has filed a lawsuit against the Marietta Education Association – the teachers’ union – and the board of education.

Jade Thompson, a Spanish language teacher at Marietta High School and the wife of Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, filed the lawsuit only hours after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME. The high court found that withholding dues – termed “agency fees” – from non-members by the union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was a violation of the First Amendment rights of the employee, Mark Janus, who works for the state of Illinois and objected to being associated with many of the political and social positions taken by the union.

Thompson’s complaint is 20 pages, detailing her objections to being forcibly associated with the Marietta Education Association and its stand on many political and social issues. Thompson has a record of public complaints on that issue, but the Janus decision has provided an opening for her to end her relationship with the teachers’ union through the courts.

Thompson’s case is being taken to the court by the Buckeye Institute, a generally conservative nonprofit think-tank in Columbus. Attorney Robert Alt said Tuesday the institute is taking the case on a pro bono basis “to advance good public policy and defend Ms. Thompson’s First Amendment rights.”

Alt said Thompson, by involuntarily having agency fees deducted from her pay and being represented by the union as an exclusive agency, was being forced to subsidize speech with which she disagrees and until now has had no choice but to be associated with the union.

The Marietta Education Association is affiliated with state and national teachers’ unions, which have published resolutions on education policy, school financing, charter schools, voting rights, sex education and the metric systems, among other things, that Thompson disagrees with, the lawsuit states.

The association offers a way to opt out, but it involves a process that Thompson in the lawsuit contends is onerous.

“If Ms. Thompson fails to undertake any step of this process for any reason or fails to navigate the process accurately, the Union collects the full agency fee and uses it to subsidize political and ideological causes she opposes,” the lawsuit states.

Those who wish to opt out have a 30-day period each year, usually Dec. 15 to Jan. 15 to do so. The lawsuit cites Janus as stating that requiring an affirmative opt-out is “an unacceptable burden on speech.”

Alt said the institute filed for a preliminary injunction July 27 but has not received a scheduling notice.

The association’s president, J.D. Benson, said that although the Janus decision erodes the influence of unions, its effect on the Marietta association will be marginal.

Only four people, including Thompson, in the local system have declined union membership, he said, and one of those decided to join the union after the Janus decision, he said. The union currently has about 180 members, he said.

“As president, I don’t have any concerns,” he said.

Going forward, he said, “I think that we will need to work with our officers to step up the game to show the benefits. A lot of the teachers know what we have done to work for them, what they have because of what we have done.”

Benson said that includes 40 minutes of planning time per day and a designated 30-minute lunch break.

Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Jade Thompson vs Marietta Education Association, Marietta City Schools Board of Education

¯Filed: June 27, 2018.

¯Jurisdiction: U.S. District Court, Southern District, Eastern Division.

¯Argument: The withholding of agency fees and mandatory affiliation with the Marietta Education Association, which promotes positions with which she disagrees, violates Thompson’s First and Fourteenth amendment rights.

Source: U.S. District Court.

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