Capitol Alert

California state worker union raising dues to fight Trump agenda

President Donald Trump, right, sitting next to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., left, speaks during a meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee and members of the President's economic team in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.
President Donald Trump, right, sitting next to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., left, speaks during a meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee and members of the President's economic team in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. AP

A small California union has big plans to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year during the remainder of President Donald Trump’s term to help it support political candidates opposed to labor policies coming out of the White House.

The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians, which represents about 6,200 state mental health workers, is levying a monthly $6.50 charge to fund extra political activities from Jan. 1, 2018 until Dec. 31, 2020.

Its leaders voted to raise the political action fee because they worry that the Trump administration and its allies will advance right-to-work laws across the country, undercutting union membership and revenue. Right-to-work laws prevent unions from charging so-called “fair share fees” to cover the non-political costs of representing workers who don’t want to belong to a labor group.

The union cited an “ever-present anti-union, anti-worker movement that is seeking to strip away our rights as workers by weakening their unions” when it announced the new fee.

“Since the election of President Trump, anti-union sentiment has been on the rise in states across the nation and even in California. Right-to-work legislation is being pushed everywhere, and we are asking our members to participate in the fight to protect our rights,” union spokeswoman Christine Caro said in an email to The Bee.

California is one of 22 states that allow fair share fees. In April, an Assembly committee rejected a bill sponsored by Republican lawmakers that would have made California a right-to-work state.

Opponents to fair-share fees say they subsidize a union’s political speech, thereby undermining a worker’s First Amendment rights. Supporters say they prevent “free riders,” meaning people who benefit from union representation but don’t pay for it.

The psychiatric technician union is giving its members two months to opt out of the new charges. Its leaders are visiting members at state hospitals and prisons to make a case for the fees.

About 93 percent of the workers it represents are full members who agree to pay dues for political activities. If the membership rate holds, the union would raise about $450,000 a year for political activities beyond what it can afford today.

The psychiatric technician union does not have a political action committee to participate in federal elections. The money will go toward state races and initiatives, the union said.

This year, the union has given $217,000 to political candidates and parties. It gave money to incumbents from both parties, but skewed toward Democrats. It gave $115,00 to the California Democratic Party, for example.

Although the union can help fortify California as a pro-labor state, its extra political money won’t tilt the biggest right-to-work fight in 2018. That will play out at the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear an Illinois lawsuit challenging fair share fees.

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the court last year tied 4-4 on a similar lawsuit against the California Teachers Association. Now, with Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench in Scalia’s seat, most California labor leaders expect the Supreme Court to rule against union fair-share fees.

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Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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