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Nonunion Employee Challenges District On Dues Deduction

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A social worker in the Denver public schools is asking a state district court to void a section of a teachers' contract that requires him to pay the equivalent of union dues although he is not a union member.

John M. Opie, who has worked for the school district since 1967 and has tenure, is suing both the Denver school board and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (dcta), which represents 3,700 teachers in the district.

Mr. Opie charges that the school board's new three-year contract with the dcta, which was approved June 15, violates Colorado education statutes guaranteeing a fixed salary, his contract with the board of education, and clauses in the state and federal constitutions.

The contract between the school system and the dcta provides that an automatic deduction be made from the paychecks of all professional employees--union members and nonmembers alike--for union dues.

The case differs from those in which individuals challenge "agency shops" in school districts, according to Mr. Opie's attorney, Joseph Hahn, an employee of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

In agency shops, he said, the employees know that as a condition of their employment they will pay union dues whether or not they intend to join. They can either authorize a deduction from their paycheck or pay the union dues separately.

The Denver school district contract does not have an agency-shop provision, however, and Mr. Opie contends that he did not authorize the deduction which, his lawyer says, would amount to $250 a year.

"This is the only case we know of in which the district has deducted without authorization," Mr. Hahn said.

Anyone not wishing to pay this deduction must fill out a form at the union office between Sept. 1 and Sept. 15 each year. Mr. Opie, who feels the entire deduction process is illegal, did not excercise this option.

By forcing Mr. Opie to pay into an organization he does not support, Mr. Hahn said, the defendants are violating his state and federal constitutional rights to free association. Taking the money from him involuntarily, Mr. Hahn said, violates due-process provisions in both constitutions.

The suit asks that the court nullify the relevant article in the contract. It also seeks to stop the board from deducting any money from Mr. Opie's paycheck and to stop both the board and the union from enforcing that section of the contract.

No officials for the Denver school board or the dsta were available for comment on the case.

The suit was filed Sept. 2 in Denver District Court.--ah

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