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Southern California Lifeguards Petition Supreme Court in Battle Against Scheme Trapping Employees in Union Membership

Posted in News Releases

Scheme prevents lifeguards from ending union membership for four years; Supreme Court petition also filed for CA in-home caregivers suffering similar restriction

Washington, DC (September 7, 2022) – Orange County, CA, lifeguard Jonathan Savas and 20 of his Southern California colleagues have just submitted a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, asking the Justices to hear their case challenging California Statewide Law Enforcement Agency (CSLEA) union officials’ so-called “maintenance of membership” restriction. The lifeguards are also suing State of California officials for their role in enforcing the restriction.

Savas and his colleagues argue the union-created scheme violates their rights under the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Janus, the Court declared that public sector workers cannot be forced to bankroll a union without voluntarily waiving their First Amendment right to abstain from union payments. Janus was won by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, who also represent Savas and his fellow lifeguards for free in the present case, along with the Freedom Foundation and Mariah Gondeiro of Tyler Bursh, LLP.

Under the “maintenance of membership” requirement, CSLEA union bosses and the State of California force the lifeguards to both remain formal union members and supply full union dues payments to the CSLEA union against their will. Savas and the other plaintiffs sent messages resigning their union memberships and ending dues authorizations back in September 2019, but union officials denied their requests, alleging they must remain full members until 2023 or be fired. Despite Janus, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this requirement does not violate the First Amendment.

Foundation staff attorneys have also just filed a petition for writ of certiorari for Dolores Polk and several other California in-home caregivers, who are challenging a union “escape period” scheme limiting their Janus right to cut off union dues to just a handful of days per year. Although Polk and her fellow in-home caregivers are not public employees, they are still forced by California law to work under the so-called “representation” of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officials.

Lifeguards’ Attorneys: ‘Maintenance of Membership’ Requirements Have Been Unconstitutional for Decades

Savas and his fellow lifeguards’ Foundation-provided attorneys argue that the Ninth Circuit’s refusal to strike down “maintenance of membership” requirements does not only contradict Janus’ ban on all forced dues in the public sector, but even goes against the Supreme Court’s now-overturned 1977 decision in Abood. Abood let union officials force dissenting public sector employees to pay a portion of union dues as a condition of employment.

“If anything, maintenance of membership requirements are more injurious to First Amendment rights because they also compel employees to remain union members over their objection—which infringes on associational rights—and [forces workers] to subsidize union speech” with full dues payments, reads the petition. That exceeds the boundaries set in Abood and includes subsidization of union political activity.

Savas’ petition also slams the Ninth Circuit’s failure to apply the Supreme Court’s “waiver” test to CSLEA’s “maintenance of membership” restriction. Janus dictated that union dues can only be deducted from a public employee’s paycheck if that employee gives a “clear and compelling” waiver of Janus rights. Foundation attorneys point out that the CSLEA union’s dues deductions forms contained only a “vague reference” to the “maintenance of membership” restriction. The Ninth Circuit erroneously believed that was enough to satisfy Janus requirements.

“A vague reference to unspecified limitations in ‘the Unit 7 contract and State law’ does not establish the Lifeguards contractually consented” to become and remain union members for four years, the petition says.

Supreme Court Must Intervene to Stop Spread of Unconstitutional Restrictions

The petition for Savas and his fellow lifeguards emphasizes how crucial it is for the Supreme Court to overturn cumbersome “maintenance of membership” restrictions, pointing out that California unions and legislators will continue to force public employees to remain formal union members and pay full dues as a condition of employment. “Other states likely will follow suit, such as Pennsylvania, whose laws also authorize maintenance of membership requirements,” the brief states.

In Polk’s petition, Foundation attorneys also emphasize the importance of striking down similarly anti-Janus “escape periods.” If the Court does not act, reads the petition, “There are few impediments to states and unions including oppressive restrictions in [dues deduction] forms, such as a requirement that individuals cannot stop state dues deductions except during annual ten-day periods,” allowing union officials an effective workaround of the First Amendment rights of the workers they claim to represent.

“The Ninth Circuit’s giving a pass to so-called ‘maintenance of membership’ restrictions effectively gives union officials complete control over when public employees can exercise their rights to end union membership and cut off union dues deductions,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “That erases not only the protections against all forced dues payments provided by Janus, but even older rulings that forbade union officials from forcing full union membership and payment for union political activities on public workers.”

“The Supreme Court must intervene in Mr. Savas’ case and Ms. Polk’s case to protect public sector workers’ First Amendment rights and prevent union bosses and their political allies from replicating across the country these patently unconstitutional restrictions,” Mix added.

“Public sector employees have been leaving their government employee unions in droves when they learn they have the right to do so,” explained Freedom Foundation attorney Rebekah Millard. “These California unions are employing tactics to entrap people in the union, forcing them to keep paying dues against their will. It is time for the Supreme Court to step in and affirm the First Amendment rights laid out in Janus.”

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