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Last month’s Supreme Court decision banning unions from collecting money from workers who don’t belong to them could cost state government’s largest labor organization $100 million in fees it charged to employees who had not “opted in” to it since 2012.
The National Right to Work Foundation in a new court filing attached to an ongoing lawsuit is demanding that SEIU Local 1000 return the money to about 40,000 current and former state workers because the union allegedly created overly burdensome “opt out” procedures that caused employees to pay more money than necessary in labor fees.
The foundation argues that the union’s former “opt out” process conflicted with the Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Janus v. AFSCME that held in part that workers must affirmatively choose to belong to a union before a labor organization can collect dues from them. It also makes the case that the new ruling should be applied retroactively.
The court decision ended a 41-year precedent that allowed public sector unions to collect so-called “fair share” fees from workers who did not choose to belong to labor organizations but benefited from workplace representation.
“Around the country, the effect of the Janus decision is just starting to be felt,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said in a news release. “Thanks to this landmark ruling, tens of thousands of California government employees are now a step closer to finally receiving recompense for years of being forced to hand over their hard-earned money to an SEIU union they choose not to join.”
The Right to Work Foundation, a well-funded nonprofit organization that aims to rein in what it sees as abuses of union power, attached its request to a lawsuit it filed on behalf of 14 state workers who believed the SEIU did not give them a fair opportunity to quit paying certain fees in 2012. One of the plaintiffs is Ken Hamidi, a longtime SEIU 1000 critic who wants to create a new state worker union.
The case is at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. It was first heard in federal court, where Judge William Shubb in 2017 sided with SEIU Local 1000 and allowed it to continue collecting fees through an “opt out” system. At the time, Right to Work Foundation attorney James Young acknowledged in court that the case would have to be settled at a higher level because it challenged precedents handed down by the Supreme Court.
Anne Giese, SEIU 1000’s chief counsel, said the new filing is part of an anti-labor campaign intended to bleed unions that were already weakened by the recent court decision.
“This lawsuit and other similar lawsuits around the country are the next phase of a coordinated and malicious effort to cripple unions and the rights of American working people. Local 1000 has always been, and continues to be, dedicated to adhering to any and all legal requirements including those handed down by the courts while vigorously working to protect the rights of our members,” she said in a written statement.
The case is the second significant court battle between the Right to Work Foundation and SEIU Local 1000. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that that SEIU 1000 had inappropriately charged state workers a political action fee in 2005 without getting their consent.
Prior to the Janus decision, state workers represented by SEIU 1000 paid union fees at three different rates.
In 2013, when the lawsuit was filed, 55,000 of them were full union members paying up to $90 a month.
About 35,000 SEIU-represented workers were nonmembers. Most paid “fair share” fees, which were almost equal to full dues but subtracted union expenses for overt political campaigns.
Others paid a lower rate as nongermane objectors, a status that meant they opposed most union activities and wanted to contribute the bare minimum fee they were required to pay by state law. In recent years, that rate was about 65 percent to 70 percent of full dues.
State workers had to “opt out” and declare themselves as nongermane objectors every year, or they’d be enrolled as fair share payers at a higher rate.
The Supreme Court decision last month in Janus v. AFSCME forbids unions from collecting fair share fees or fees from nongermane objectors. They now can charge dues only to workers who choose to be in the union.