Ohio Guidance Counselor Sues to Stop Union Representation

by J.D. Davidson


A Northeast Ohio school guidance counselor filed a lawsuit to stop union representation, saying she’s not a member of the union and should not be forced to accept it.

Barbara Kolkowski, a counselor in the Ashtabula Area City School District, filed the complaint in Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas and wants a preliminary and permanent injunction that stops the union from requiring her to accept its representation.

She’s also asking the court to declare she has the right to choose her own counsel and nominal damages, according to the complaint.

The Buckeye Institute, an independent think tank based in Columbus, filed the lawsuit on Kolkowski’s behalf.

“Even though Ms. Kolkowski is not a member of the union, she is being forced to have a union representative speak for her. This unlawful arrangement contravenes the well-established First Amendment rights of public-sector employees and plainly violates Ohio statute,” Jay Carson, senior litigator with The Buckeye Institute’s Legal Center and Kolkowski’s attorney, said. “Ohio’s collective bargaining statute guarantees certain rights to all public-sector employees, among which is the right to present grievances and to have them adjusted without the intervention of the union.”

In September, Kolkowski filed a contract grievance regarding duties assigned to her in a supplemental contract. District administrators denied the grievance, along with an appeal, according to the complaint. She represented herself in both the first grievance and the appeal.

Later, she asked the union to request arbitration on her behalf and notified the union she wanted her own counsel, at her own expense. Kolkowski’s lawsuit claims the union, in a letter, said it would file for arbitration on her behalf but she could not be represented by her own counsel.

In another case involving public employees and union representation, The Buckeye Institute asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Thompson v. Marietta Education Association.

Jade Thompson’s case opened in 2018 with a motion for preliminary injunction and was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in February 2020.

“For far too long, Jade Thompson has been forced to speak through and associate with a union of which she is not even a member in violation of her First Amendment rights,” Robert Alt, president and CEO of The Buckeye Institute and lead attorney in the Thompson case, said. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that old case law required it to rule against Ms. Thompson, while nonetheless concluding that Ohio’s ‘take-it-or-leave-it system’ of exclusive representation directly conflicts with the principles announced in the Janus v. AFSCME decision – a discrepancy that can be resolved only by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. Davidson is a regional editor for The Center Square.







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