The State Worker

Another lawsuit demands California unions return fair share fees to government workers

Darrell Steinberg reacts to the fair share decision by Supreme Court

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg joined labor and community leaders in expressing their thoughts against the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended a 41-year precedent that allowed public sector unions to collect fair share fees.
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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg joined labor and community leaders in expressing their thoughts against the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended a 41-year precedent that allowed public sector unions to collect fair share fees.

A national anti-union organization has filed another lawsuit on behalf of a California public employee who wants fees he paid for years to an SEIU local returned to him in the wake of this summer’s Supreme Court decision banning labor organizations from collecting any kind of dues from people who don’t want to belong to them.

This time, the National Right to Work Foundation is suing Services Employees International Union Local 522 on behalf of William Hough, a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority worker who did not want to participate in the labor organization but still had so-called “fair share” fees deducted from his paycheck and handed to the union.

For 41 years, unions in certain states were allowed to collect those fees as a protection against “free riders,” or people who benefited from bargaining but did not pay for the union’s services. The fees tended to be between 70 and 99 percent of full union dues.

The Supreme Court in June banned the practice for public sector unions, finding that government unions are inherently political and workers could not be compelled to support them.

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The case, Janus vs. AFSCME, has inspired lawsuits all over the country from public-sector workers who want money returned to them. The Right to Work Foundation filed a claim immediately after the decision against state government’s largest union, SEIU Local 1000, demanding that it pay back tens of millions of dollars to state workers.

In the new case, the Right to Work Foundation estimates that a ruling in Hough’s favor could force SEIU Local 521 to pay “millions of dollars” to government workers across central California.

“The High Court made clear that fees cannot be collected without a clear waiver of First Amendment rights, something the SEIU never gave Mr. Hough and his colleagues, which is why the complaint seeks refunds of millions of dollars of fees seized in recent years,” Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens said in a news release.

Unions view the Hough lawsuit and others like it as an effort to tie them down in courts. Their collection of fair share fees was legal until the Supreme Court issued a decision forbidding the practice, they say.

“This lawsuit is straight out of the playbook of the National Right to Work Foundation, which is one of many front groups for wealthy billionaires who want to divide me and my co-workers and weaken our union,” said Tammy Dhanota, an SEIU 521 member and chairwoman of its Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority chapter.

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Hough and the Right to Work Foundation filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Jose. SEIU Local 521 represents a mix of local government employees in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Tulare counties.

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