Capitol Alert

California union contracts targeted in new lawsuit challenging how workers quit paying dues

Conservative groups are suing the union representing in-home caretakers, alleging that the union is violating workers’ First Amendment rights by restricting when members can leave the labor organization.

The new lawsuit echoes a series of similar lawsuits targeting California’s public sector unions that seek to negate “opt out” clause that limit when union members can quit and stop paying dues.

The Freedom Foundation, a Washington state organization, and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation this week filed a class action lawsuit against the United Domestic Workers AFSCME Local 3930 and California State Controller Betty Yee in the District Court for the Southern District of California.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five individual plaintiffs — from Imperial, Orange, San Diego and Riverside Counties — all of whom are In-Home Support Service (IHSS) providers who receive compensation from Medi-Cal. In each case, the suit alleges that UDW violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights by continuing to collect dues despite the plaintiff requesting removal from membership in the union.

The union represents workers who receive government compensation to care for ill or disabled people. Usually, in-home caregivers help loved ones or relatives. The lawsuit says the plaintiffs did not understand the opt-out clause when they joined UDW, and they needed their full compensation to make ends meet.

“The dues deduction assignments that Controller Yee and UDW use and enforce do not contain language informing IHSS providers of their First Amendment right not to subsidize UDW and its speech or stating that the provider waives that right by executing the assignment,” according to the complaint.

Because of that, the plaintiffs’ dues payments are invalid and the unions “are not legally authorized to deduct dues or fees from their hard-earned Medicaid payments,” according to a statement from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Unions commonly restrict when workers can separate from their organizations. They liken union membership to car insurance, and say they don’t want to incur the cost of representing workers only when they’re in trouble with their employers.

The UDW said in a statement that they are in the process of reviewing the lawsuit, which they said is the product of “an anti-worker organization that is actively seeking plaintiffs across the country in its campaign to destroy unions.”

“Despite many efforts, the Freedom Foundation has been unsuccessful in dismantling our union, and tens of thousands of home care providers have voluntarily joined UDW since 2014,” UDW said in a statement.

The UDW represents 74,000 members; that’s up from 65,000 in 2014, when the Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit known as Harris v. Quinn that homecare providers cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees just because they receive public funding.

That case instantly stripped UDW of tens of thousands of members. It rebuilt its numbers over years by rethinking its engagement with members and emphasizing its effort to protect funding for in-home caregiving programs, its leaders have told The Sacramento Bee.

An adverse decision in the new case could affect UDW’s ability to retain membership.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year in Janus v. AFSCME, in 2018, found that unions cannot force the payment of dues or fees without members’ knowing and explicit consent. If a judge rules that the plaintiffs in this class action suit were unable to give that consent, the union could be forced to relinquish any collected dues and fees found in violation, the conservative groups say.

The Freedom Foundation, the Right to Work Foundation and the California Policy Center have filed at least 15 similar lawsuits against California public sector unions since the Janus decision challenging opt-out clauses. So far, the cases have been unsuccessful as unions have argued they collected dues in good faith.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.