Relying on landmark Knox Supreme Court decision, county employees seek to end automatic dues deduction for union politics
San Jose, CA (December 3, 2014) – Two Santa Clara Valley Medical Center employees have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against a local union and the county that seeks to expand public employees' right to refrain from paying union dues used for union politics.
With free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation-provided staff attorneys, San Jose-area county employees Jeffrey Lum and Andrew Li filed the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California's San Jose Division.
Lum and Li are not formal union members in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521. Because California does not have a Right to Work law, workers can be required to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. However, nonmember workers have the right to refrain from paying for union boss politics and many other activities not related to bargaining with their employer.
Although Lum and Li are not union members, SEIU and county officials continue to deduct an amount equal to full union dues from their paychecks as if they were. Up to 14 months after taking full dues and fees from their paychecks, SEIU officials refund the illegally-seized portion of union dues, without interest. In the meantime, SEIU officials can illegally use the money on politics.
For example, SEIU Local 521 officials did not refund to Lum and Li the portion of dues illegally seized from their paychecks during 2013 until March 2014. The workers argue that this amounts to an unconstitutional interest-free loan to bankroll union boss politics.
This lawsuit also challenges existing lower federal court case law that requires nonmember public employees to pay an amount equal to full union dues -- including the part used for union politics – unless they affirmatively object. Workers who object also must renew their objections annually.
In its 2012 Foundation-won Knox v. SEIU ruling, in a case that originated in California, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an affirmative objection requirement for special assessments. The Court there indicated that it was ready to reassess whether union bosses' forced dues powers, which it called "something of an anomaly," include the power to use in any circumstances "an opt-out system for the collection of fees levied to cover nonchargeable expenses." Responding to that suggestion, the employees seek to expand Knox to apply to all instances when public employees refrain from union membership.
"Union bosses have government-granted power to compel workers to fund their political activities unless workers object -- a power granted to no other private organization in our country," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. "The First Amendment right for workers who refrain from union membership to automatically not pay union dues for politics is long overdue."