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Bus drivers' suit seeks end to union dues payments

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published May 29, 2014 at 2:48 p.m.

Five Pulaski County school bus drivers are contending in a federal lawsuit that they are being forced to pay union dues in violation of their right not to be members, the National Right to Work Foundation said in a news release.

The agency said it was providing free legal assistance to the five Pulaski County Special School District bus drivers in their suit against the district and the union, the Pulaski Association of Support Staff.

A copy of the lawsuit, which seeks an end to the paycheck deductions and a refund of previously deducted union dues for the plaintiffs, was not immediately available in an online database of federal cases. A spokesman for the foundation did not immediately return a message seeking additional information.

The foundation said the union denied a request from the drivers to resign their union membership and cease making dues payments. The union said the drivers needed to do that in a "15-day 'window period' in July," the release states.

The union dues have continued to be deducted from the drivers' paychecks, the foundation added.

"Under the U.S. Constitution, workers have the unconditional right to refrain from union membership at any time," the foundation said in the news release. "Under Arkansas' popular Right to Work law, nonmember workers can refrain from paying union dues and fees."

Jerry Guess, superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, said he had not yet been served with the lawsuit. But, he said, the district has responded to requests from several employees seeking to have their union due payments stopped despite a requirement from the union that it occur during the 15-day period in July.

Guess said the district was willing to stop the dues payments immediately, and did for one employee, if the drivers signed a form stating they wanted the payments ended and would not hold the school district responsible if they were sued by the union.

"My thought would be if they become dissatisfied with union representation, they should have the discretion to withdraw their membership" at any time, Guess said, adding he thinks the lawsuit reflects a "certain sense of dissatisfaction with belonging to the union."

A message left with a Pulaski Association of Support Staff official wasn't immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

"No worker should be forced to jump through hoops to exercise their rights to refrain from union membership and dues payments," foundation president Mark Mix said in the release. "This case underscores just how even in a long-time Right to Work state like Arkansas, we must be vigilant to ensure that union officials don't create illegal barriers to workers exercising their right to work without being forced to pay union dues or be fired."

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