The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, September/October 2021 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
Employee wanted to stop dues but law let union bosses demand photo ID
Foundation staff attorney William Messenger scored a huge win for worker freedom in Janus. He’s now on Amber Walker’s legal team.
IRVINE, CA – California has long been at the forefront when it comes to promoting forced union dues. So when it became clear the Supreme Court would likely side with National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys in the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME case, union boss allies in the California legislature quickly got to work passing laws to undermine public employees’ First Amendment rights. Among the most pernicious of the series of California’s anti-Janus laws is one that gives government union bosses unilateral control over which workers have dues money seized from their paychecks, even over the objections of those workers.
Now, with free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, University of California Irvine lab assistant Amber Walker is challenging the law in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, suing both the University of California system and University Professional and Technical Employees (Communications Workers of America, UPTE-CWA 9119) union officials.
Her case contends that the California statute, which makes public employers completely subservient to union officials on dues issues, let union bosses demand she provide a photo ID just to exercise her First Amendment right to stop union financial support. Her Foundation-provided staff attorneys argue that the California statute violates both due process and First Amendment guarantees.
In the Foundation-argued Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case, the Court declared that forcing public sector workers to fund unions as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment. The Justices also ruled that union dues can only be taken from a public employee with an affirmative and knowing waiver of that employee’s First Amendment right not to pay.
“The University is leaving me helpless against these union officials who just seem to want to take my money despite the fact that I clearly don’t want to be part of the union,” Walker told a Los Angeles Times reporter. “The Janus decision said that I should have a choice when it comes to supporting a union, but UPTE has been denying me my rights and the university is letting the union get away with it.”
Statute Prevents Workers from Telling University Admin to Stop Illegal Takings
Walker’s lawsuit explains that she sent CWA union bosses a letter in June 2021 exercising her right to end her union membership and all union dues deductions from her wages. Although Walker submitted this message within a short annual “escape period” that CWA officials impose to limit when workers can revoke dues deductions, they still rebuffed her request, telling her she needed to mail them a copy of a photo ID to effectuate her revocation.
The photo ID requirement, seemingly adopted purely to frustrate workers’ attempts to exercise their constitutional rights, is mentioned nowhere on the dues deduction card Walker had previously signed to initiate dues payments.
Lawsuit: Union Officials Should Not Control Workers’ First Amendment Rights
UC Irvine and CWA officials are still seizing cash from Walker’s paycheck, and will likely continue to do so for at least another year as the CWA’s arbitrary and short annual “window period” elapsed by the time CWA officials notified Walker that her attempt to stop dues was rejected for lack of photo ID.
The university administration can’t stop dues payments for Walker because of the California statute that gives union officials total control over union dues deductions.
Foundation staff attorneys state in Walker’s complaint that, because of the California statute, CWA officials were able to trample Walker’s desire to keep her own money and were allowed to infringe on her First Amendment Janus rights.
Walker seeks refunds of the dues taken from her and other university workers under CWA’s photo ID scheme. She also seeks to stop the State of California from enforcing the state law outsourcing the process for stopping and starting union dues deductions to self-interested union officials.
UPTE Bosses Designed Scheme Knowing CA Law Would Protect Them
“California CWA union bosses clearly value illegally filling their coffers with Ms. Walker’s money over respecting her First Amendment and due process rights,” commented National Right to Work Foundation Vice President and Legal Director Raymond LaJeunesse. “They created this photo ID requirement out of thin air to block workers from exercising their Janus rights, safe in the knowledge that California’s union dues policies would stifle any chance a public worker has of getting his or her employer to stop seizing dues money for the union.”
“By giving union bosses total control over how and when workers can exercise their First Amendment Janus right to stop dues payments, California is allowing the fox to guard the henhouse to the detriment of public employees’ constitutional rights,” added LaJeunesse.