Court Set to Approve Settlement Against Ohio Teachers Union

Ohio Education Association

A class-action suit filed against the Ohio Education Association (OEA) by over a dozen current and former Ohio teachers will likely be settled in July, based on recent court filings.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Judge Michael H. Watson issued an order on March 31 scheduling a July 1 hearing and granting preliminary approval of a settlement agreed to by all parties in the case, Thaxton et al v. OEA et al.

Plaintiffs have accused OEA and its affiliates of over-charging teachers who decline union membership but are forced to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees to the union because Ohio is not a workplace freedom state.

OEA, Ohio’s most powerful “progressive” lobbying group, determines itself what portion of its dues can be charged to non-members. The union initially tried to have the teachers’ complaint dismissed, but agreed to settlement terms last year.

The court will review arguments for and against the settlement from anyone who is a member of one of the two classes certified in Judge Watson’s March 31 order.

Class A includes all non-OEA members who have been forced to pay a fair share fee to OEA since the 2009-2010 school year and have received or requested a partial refund.

Class B includes all non-OEA members who have at any time since the 2009-2010 school year been forced to pay a fee to any of the 11 OEA affiliates named in the complaint.

Judge Watson also granted preliminary approval to the parties’ agreement that defendants will pay plaintiffs’ court costs up to a total of $175,000. Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

If the agreement tentatively approved by the court receives final approval after the hearing on July 1, OEA’s affiliates named in the suit will have to pay nominal damages of $1 per school year to each of the teachers in Class B.

OEA, meanwhile, will have to refund an amount equal to 8.5 percent of OEA’s total membership dues for each school year to each of the plaintiffs and to all other teachers in Class A.

For the 2013-2014 school year, OEA will be required to reduce its fair share fee taken from non-members by 8.5 percent of the union’s member dues plus a 1 percent “cushion,” and the OEA affiliates named in the case will not be permitted to take fair share fees.

From the 2014-2015 school year until the settlement expires in 2040, OEA will have to reduce its fair share fee by 1.5 percent of the union’s annual member dues.

Additionally, OEA and its affiliates have tentatively agreed to a number of changes to how they track what activities are chargeable to non-members and how they inform non-members about the fees they are charged.

Last week, Green Party Ohio state committee member Tim Bruce filed an objection to the proposed settlement with the court.

“As a nonmember of the OEA for the period 2012-2013, I believe that the current nonmember ‘fair share’ fee is entirely appropriate,” Bruce wrote.

“The union negotiates the contract, pay and terms of employment on behalf of all employees,” Bruce continued. “That some employees (including myself) choose not to become union members does not absolve us from a moral, and indeed I believe appropriately, a legal obligation to pay our fare [sic] share to the union that negotiates on our behalf.”

“I urge to court to throw out this entire settlement. The suit has been brought by those who seek to weaken public sector unions and this settlement is a step in the wrong direction for hardworking educators, and ultimately, our students,” Bruce added, concluding, “I have subsequently joined the union. Any money that I get from this settlement, I will donate to them.”

Refer to prior Media Trackers coverage for more details about the case.