Cal­i­for­nia teach­ers sue to stop forced pay of union dues

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

Spe­cial needs in­struc­tor Bethany Men­dez has been fight­ing for months to es­cape the teach­ers union in Fre­mont, Cal­i­for­nia, but the school district con­tin­ues to fun­nel a por­tion of her pay­check di­rectly to the la­bor bank ac­count.

She joined four other pub­lic school ed­u­ca­tors in fil­ing a fed­eral class-ac­tion law­suit last week against the Cal­i­for­nia Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion to stop the forced col­lec­tion of union dues, armed with last year’s land­mark Supreme Court rul­ing in Janus v. AFSCME.

“This is a fi­nan­cial is­sue for many peo­ple as well as a per­sonal choice,” Ms. Men­dez said at a press con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco. “It is un­fath­omable to me that after even re­ceiv­ing a re­vo­ca­tion of con­sent, and the pass­ing of Janus, that the lo­cal and state unions would con­tinue to as­sert this manda­tory de­duc­tion from our pay­checks.”

The law­suit, brought by San Fran­cisco lawyer Harmeet K. Dhillon and the Free­dom Foun­da­tion, comes with unions scram­bling to re­tain mem­bers after the 5-4 Janus rul­ing. The court said that re­quir­ing pub­lic-sec­tor em­ploy­ees to pay union fees vi­o­lates their First Amend­ment rights.

“Unions are un­justly en­riched and ben­e­fit them­selves at the ex­pense of plain­tiffs by re­tain­ing the dues over the ob­jec­tions and without the con­sent of the plain­tiffs,” said Ms. Dhillon, a Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber from Cal­i­for­nia.

The Golden State law­suit is the lat­est post-Janus le­gal ac­tion brought by the Free­dom Foun­da­tion, which also has filed law­suits on be­half of pub­lic em­ploy­ees try­ing to cut their union ties in Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton.

Named with the state teach­ers union in lit­i­ga­tion were Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra, the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, five lo­cal unions and five school su­per­in­ten­dents.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Mr. Be­cerra said he had not seen the law­suit.

“This is just an­other law­suit from the Free­dom Foun­da­tion to con­tinue the at­tack on pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic em­ploy­ees,” said Clau­dia Briggs, a spokes­woman for the Cal­i­for­nia Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which has about 325,000 mem­bers.

The per­cent­age of pub­lic school teach­ers who be­long to unions has been de­clin­ing steadily for years, even be­fore Janus. About 70 per­cent were union mem­bers in the 201516 Na­tional Teacher and Prin­ci­pal Sur­vey, down from 74 per­cent in 2011-12, ac­cord­ing to Ed­u­ca­tion Week.

Fearing the out­come of the Janus case, which has the po­ten­tial to oblit­er­ate public­sec­tor unions, teach­ers unions un­der­took vig­or­ous mem­ber­ship drives at the end of the 2017-18 school year, just weeks be­fore the Supreme Court’s June 27 rul­ing.

Ms. Men­dez said she was reluc­tant to sign her recom­mit­ment card but did so on June 4, un­aware of the im­mi­nent Janus de­ci­sion and un­der pres­sure from union or­ga­niz­ers who ap­proached her at her ele­men­tary school.

“They pushed these recom­mit­ments know­ing full well that the pass­ing of Janus may oc­cur, but the em­ploy­ees were never in­formed of this,” Ms. Men­dez said. “So I signed, be­liev­ing there were no other op­tions avail­able to me and that the de­duc­tions would be made re­gard­less. These com­mit­ment cards have locked em­ploy­ees into fund­ing the union.”

In an Oct. 12 let­ter, she no­ti­fied the union she had re­signed and re­voked any duescol­lect­ing au­tho­riza­tion, but the CTA told her in a Feb. 8 re­sponse that she could quit only dur­ing a 30-day win­dow de­scribed as “not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days be­fore the an­nual an­niver­sary date” of her recom­mit­ment.

Two union rep­re­sen­ta­tives came to her class­room seek­ing to per­suade her to stay, but she “told them she did not ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing bom­barded with pro-union pro­pa­ganda while at work,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Free­dom Foun­da­tion at­tor­ney Mariah Gon­deiro-Watt ar­gued that any union mem­ber­ship card signed be­fore June 27 is “worth­less,” un­less the union can prove that the sign­ers were “fully ap­prised” of their rights.

“It doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence when the teach­ers signed their mem­ber­ship forms,” Ms. Gon­deiro-Watt said. “No mem­ber­ship agree­ment be­fore or since Janus is valid un­less the pub­lic-sec­tor worker af­fir­ma­tively and know­ingly agreed to waive his or her First Amend­ment rights.”

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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