California unions refusing to recognize workers' rights

We have filed another lawsuit, this time on behalf of Isaac Wolf, a California government employee who was told by his union that his First Amendment rights, restored by the Supreme Court, could only be exercised during an arbitrary window of time. 

Not only was Isaac Wolf denied his right to leave University Professional & Technical Employees Communications Workers of America Local 9119, when he contacted his employer, the Regents of the University of California, about the issue, he was told because of a California law, they could not talk to their employees about union membership.

$2 million for 2,700 workers

This week we launched a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of 9 Illinois employees who paid agency fees, a.k.a. “fair share” fees, to the government union in order to keep their jobs. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that requirement to be illegal.

One of the plaintiffs, Blake Leitch, and I appeared at a press conference yesterday to talk about the case. Blake, an Iraq war veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart, paid about $2,500 in fair share fees to AFSCME during the five years he worked at the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs. When he joined the military twenty years ago he made an oath to defend and protect our country’s Constitution, an oath he continues to honor through this lawsuit. 

Be heard

As a fair share member of the government union at my work place, I never felt heard. 

I didn’t want to be a member of the union, yet they represented me in contract negotiations. I didn’t agree with their politics, yet the fees taken from my paycheck supported their political agenda. 

Filing my case was empowering. In that moment I finally felt heard. And when we went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won I knew my voice made a difference. 

You can be heard too.

Knowledge is power

Knowledge is power.

Unions know that and deliberately keep information from their members. A recent article in Trib Live highlights the experience of Francisco Molina, a former SEIU shop steward. His efforts to share information about union guidelines and practices with his colleagues were not appreciated by union officials. And when he alerted his co-workers to a union initiative that would require them to pay union dues “even if they found another job or stopped being union members,” he was pushed out.

This is the reality for many government workers

Shalea Oliver had been trying to leave her union for more than a year when she found a website offering help. It had a template resignation letter that she could send to her union, SEIU Local 668, and a form to fill out if the letter wasn’t effective, which she did…” 

All over the country, teachers, firefighters, caseworkers and other public servants are discovering they now have a voice and choice when it comes to union membership. They’re also discovering that the unions are making it difficult to exercise those rights. Fortunately, this Philadelphia Inquirer story is positive:  

Pennsylvania can no longer ignore its employees' rights

Last fall we contacted government leaders in more than a dozen states, alerting them the Janus v. AFSCME decision had restored government workers’ constitutional rights and freed them from mandatory union membership. 

We also warned these public officials that they needed to fulfill their responsibilities and enforce that law. If they failed to do so, we would take action on behalf of government workers in their states. They not only ignored, but openly defied the Supreme Court ruling.

So we’re taking action.

The people who still need help

Janus v. AFSCME brought an end to fair share fees and forced unionization for five million government workers across the country. It was a huge victory, but it didn’t help everyone. 

Workers for private companies in 23 states can still be forced to pay union dues or fees in order to keep their jobs. 

This isn’t right.

Celebrating workers' choices

Several reports have come through my inbox I think are worth sharing: 

Based on the most recent federal Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the California Policy Center reports that not only did 41,000 people in the Golden State stop paying agency fees, but union membership dropped by 86,000 members. 

In Oregon, the Freedom Foundation determined that 26% of SEIU 503 members, Oregon’s largest government union, were no longer paying dues by the end of December 2018.

Too little too late

It is always interesting to see how unions react when notified our clients are suing to be let out of the union. These government workers have tried multiple times to exercise their rights to resign and stop paying dues to no avail. But once we get involved and a lawsuit was filed, the government unions suddenly try to pacify them.

Not even the letter of the law...much less the spirit

I still find it surprising the lengths some politicians will go to ensure that government union interests prevail and that state employees’ constitutional rights are overruled.

Connecticut has plans to trap government workers into financially supporting the union whether they want to or not. Two House Democrats have filed a bill that would allow government employees to resign from the union, but require them to continue paying dues until the window of time spelled out on their union card. Cards “signed” when paying money to government unions was a condition of working in public service, a requirement ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

California has made exercising one’s right to leave a government union even more cumbersome and difficult. They passed a gag order that prevents employers from telling government workers about their rights — employees can only communicate with and get clarity from the union they’re trying to leave.

Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, Hawaii passed a statewide opt-out window limiting the time period government workers can exercise their rights. The state’s attorney general knows this goes against the Janus decision and said they’d just have wait and see if it is challenged. We are

Oregon’s proposed law is perhaps the most outrageous. They want to give all government workers a pay cut and direct that money into a slush fund to directly pay unions the equivalent of employees’ dues. Unions continue to benefit at the expense of public servants and taxpayers. 

Workers are busy doing their jobs, most won’t have the time or energy to jump through those hoops. That’s probably what the unions, and the politicians who support them, are counting on.

We’re currently working with government employees around the country to help them navigate these roadblocks to their constitutional rights. If you know someone in ConnecticutCaliforniaHawaiiOregon, or in any state, facing these challenges, have them contact us!

The cases you're not hearing about

I’ve been filling you in on what’s going on with our cases, but I haven’t mentioned what is going on “behind the scenes.” The people we help who get resolution before it reaches the courtroom.

Hundreds of people are using opt out letter templates (ours and others’) to contact their unions and employers to be released from their union.

Dozens of the people whose government unions, the Professional Engineers in California Government among them, refused to let them leave have been allowed to opt out after they reached out to us. When the Liberty Justice Center got involved and contacted the union to clarify what the Janus ruling meant, workers suddenly found their requests being honored.

In fact, one Pennsylvania school district employee not only was allowed to resign, she even got back dues because of our letters to the union and school district.

These are just a few of the many stories I have about workers finally being allowed to exercise their rights. I’m looking forward to the day when making that choice is as easy for everyone as just filling out a form or checking a box.

If you’re being told by your union that you have to wait until an arbitrary opt out window, I hope you’ll be encouraged by these stories. It’s not uncommon (and completely understandable) to not want to create a fuss or force the issue with your union, but don’t be afraid to reach out to us for help. You shouldn’t have to wait months, or as some are being told, years to exercise your right to leave the union.

Taking the fight to Illinois

We have filed a lawsuit in Illinois on behalf of Erich Mandel against his government union, SEIU Local 73. Erich is a diesel mechanic in the transportation department of Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine, Illinois. 

He first asked to leave SEIU in August 2018, after learning about his rights in the Janus decision. The union responded that Erich must wait until an arbitrary time period to resign his membership and stop dues collection. This is unjust and unconstitutional.

Latest case: a refund for New Mexico workers

We’re taking the fight for workers’ rights to New Mexico! 

Brett Hendrickson is an employee for the state’s Human Services Department. When the U.S. Supreme Court decision was delivered on June 27, he asked to end his union membership. Brett was told he could only opt out during a two week period.

I may sound like a broken record, but that’s wrong. Unconstitutional. 

Meet Tommy Few

I’d like you to take a minute to meet Tommy Few, a special education teacher in California whose request to exercise his constitutional right to leave the teachers union was denied three times. In this video, he shares the struggles he has endured trying to exercise his First Amendment rights.

We’re hearing from hundreds of workers around the country who have found themselves in similar situations. They’re being told they are stuck in the union until their contracts end (sometimes years from now), that they’re bad people for disagreeing with what the union stands for, and even that they can leave the union but must pay service fees equivalent to union dues as a non-union member. 

Since they’re not listening to their members’ requests, the only way to force the unions (and the politicians that put their interests above their constituents) to respect government employees’ rights, is by filing lawsuits. The Liberty Justice Center is already representing folks like Tommy around the country and we’ll continue to do so until every government employee is free to exercise their constitutional right.

Stay tuned for more developments and let us know if you need help leaving your union

California: teachers only have consititutional rights 30 days a year

I have exciting news -- in partnership with the California Policy Center, we’ve just filed a lawsuit in California, Few v. UTLA, to restore the First Amendment rights of special ed teacher Thomas Few. 

As you know, earlier this summer the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory union membership for all teachers, and government workers, in the U.S., yet the United Teachers of Los Angeles refuse to let Few out. 
UTLA has insisted that Few can only exercise his constitutional rights opt out once a year during a brief, 30-day period which they define.