San Diego, Calif. (March 31, 2005) — A U.S. District Court Judge has ruled that San Diego government union officials violated the First Amendment rights of non-union employees by implementing a discriminatory dental insurance package in June 2002 and 2003. The dental benefits scheme, part of an agreement between the San Diego Municipal Employees Association (MEA) union and the City of San Diego, was designed to pressure employees into signing up as formal union members, thereby causing them to give up certain rights, including the ability to refrain from funding union political activities. The case originated in August 2002, when San Diego employees Susan Brannian, David Cornacchia, and Jennifer Shen, with free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California challenging the legality of the discriminatory policy. Under the June 2002 “open enrollment” scheme, non-union workers were completely barred from using their pre-tax dollars to enroll in the dental benefits plan, forcing them to either pay dues to union officials or forgo the option of enrolling in the plan. Union and City officials later modified their agreement for the June 2003 enrollment period, this time forcing employees to pay a “voluntary” agency fee to receive the benefits, even though the union was required to provide all employees – regardless of union membership or agency fee payer status – with health insurance, life insurance, and the same lump sum allotment of pre-tax funds. In 2004, MEA union and City officials, under pressure from the workers’ suit, retreated from their coercive policy to allow non-union members to opt into the benefits plan. “Rather than look after employees’ interests, MEA union officials shamelessly withheld workers’ benefits to force them into union ranks,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Without this type of coercion, union officials know that many employees have little use for the union and would therefore resign and withhold financial support.” The Court agreed with Foundation attorneys’ arguments and ruled that the 2002 members-only enrollment scheme “constitutes unlawful coercion to join the union in violation of the First Amendment.” For the 2003 enrollment period, the court found the agency fee option forced workers, “to subsidize the costs of union activities that he or she would have otherwise received for free. This amounts to more than coercing union membership; it constitutes coercion to subsidize the union itself,” the Court added.