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Nonunion KC police officers sue over mandated fee

Updated: 2013-03-27T05:41:56Z

By CHRISTINE VENDEL

The Kansas City Star

Nonunion police officers and sergeants recently ordered to pay fees to the Fraternal Order of Police have sued the Kansas City police board and city officials over the fees.

The plaintiffs say their constitutional rights are being violated because the FOP didn’t follow required procedures when setting how much each nonmember would have to pay, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.

The FOP recently won the power to collect some legal fees from nonmembers as part of a settlement of a separate lawsuit it filed against the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners and the city.

The new lawsuit, filed Tuesday by 17 plaintiffs, seeks class action status to represent about 300 non-FOP members. It asks the court for an injunction to stop the FOP from collecting annual “fair share” fees and for the FOP to return any such fees it has collected and pay attorney fees and damages.

FOP officials sent an email to nonmembers last month telling them they each owe $73 for 2012 legal fees that the FOP incurred to get raises and pension reform for all officers. A full or partial payment is due Monday or the FOP will ask for discipline. Nonmembers who repeatedly refuse to pay will be fired without recourse, according to FOP officials.

The email kicked off a dispute that has split the department. Several officers have said they will not pay the fee. A contingent of nonmembers took their case two weeks ago to Missouri lawmakers, who are considering right-to-work legislation. Such legislation would outlaw forced union fees.

As it stands, unions in Missouri are allowed to collect a share of their legal fees related to collective bargaining. Since the bargaining benefits all members, all members should pay a fair share, FOP officials say.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision requires unions to provide detailed and independently audited information about the expenses incurred to ensure that only costs that benefited all employees are recouped. The decision also requires objection procedures for nonmembers. But Kansas City’s FOP provided only a brief, unaudited summary of the FOP’s legal expenses, and an objection process that falls short of the Supreme Court’s requirements, the lawsuit alleges.

FOP attorney Sean McCauley said he thinks the organization did comply with “all constitutional standards.” He declined to comment further because he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed pro bono by the National Right to Work Foundation, further alleges that the FOP put its interests above the interests of the members it “purports to represent” by accepting diminished wages and health care, pension and retirement benefits “in exchange for the authority to extract forced dues from nonmembers.”

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to cvendel@kcstar.com.

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