The State Worker

Cal Expo cop’s lawsuit targets union lock on state worker paychecks

Union fee case about ‘freeloading,’ Sacramento mayor says

Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg, a former union attorney, rallied SEIU 1000 members at an event timed to the Janus vs. AFSCME Supreme Court case.
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Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg, a former union attorney, rallied SEIU 1000 members at an event timed to the Janus vs. AFSCME Supreme Court case.

A state fair police officer is suing his union because it won’t let him quit paying dues, challenging a common provision in California public employee contracts that forbids workers from leaving labor organizations while contracts are in effect.

Terry Cooley of Galt filed the case in federal court this month with help from a pair of attorneys who have sued several California public unions since the Supreme Court in June handed down a ruling that bans labor organizations from collecting fees from workers who don’t want to join them.

The ruling in Janus vs. AFSCME ended a 41-year precedent that had allowed public employee unions to charge so-called fair share fees to workers they represented even if the employees did not agree to have the charges deducted from their paychecks. The fees were meant to cover the costs of negotiating and upholding contracts.

Cooley’s case, similar to the other lawsuits, contends that the California State Law Enforcement Association is violating the principles of the new Supreme Court decision by rejecting his request to quit the union.

CSLEA has declined Cooley’s requests to leave the union, citing a provision in its contract that forbids members from quitting until just before a labor agreement expires. It’s a common clause throughout California government.

CSLEA’s contract is in place until July 2019, and its members cannot separate from the organization until the month before the deal ends.

“I am hoping your involvement in the next round of negotiations will cause you to reconsider your intentions at that time,” a CSLEA officer wrote in a July letter denying Cooley’s request to leave the union.

A CSLEA official was not available to comment on the case this week. The union represents about 7,200 state workers, including justice department agents, game wardens and food safety inspectors.

A man who answered the phone number listed as Cooley’s in the lawsuit filing hung up without comment.

The lawsuit filed by former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell and Sacramento attorney Bradley Benbrook describes Cooley as an intermittent employee of Cal Expo since 2007. Cal Expo hires active and retired law enforcement officers to state the State Fair every summer.

Mitchell and Benbrook have filed similar lawsuits against Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees locals in California.

The complaint says Cooley does not remember electing to join CSLEA, although it acknowledged he might have a signed a document allowing dues deductions when he was hired.

Cooley’s attorneys take aim at two other big targets in the complaint.

They seek to overturn a state law that requires government agencies to follow union rules when employees file paperwork to separate from their labor organizations. That law gives unions time to attempt to persuade workers to stay in, and it forces government agencies to continue deducting dues until unions confirm that a request to separate is valid.

Also, the lawsuit argues that contract provisions restricting when workers can quit their unions are no longer valid if they were negotiated before the Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME.

The lawsuit contends that workers like Cooley sometimes agreed to participate in unions before the court decision because they would have had to pay fair share fees and they had little financial incentive to opt out of the labor organization.

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