LOS ANGELES —The leaders of the unions representing millions of public employees all over the U.S didn’t just throw in the towel when the U.S. Supreme Court three years ago affirmed in Janus v. AFSCME that mandatory union membership and dues are a violation of the First Amendment.
In fact, the courts are littered with dozens of colorful lawsuits in which a public employee sought to exercise their right to opt out only to have their union concoct a flimsy excuse for refusing to comply.
Two Los Angeles city employees, however, have now filed a joint lawsuit alleging their union, the Engineers and Architects Association (EAA), couldn’t even be bothered to justify its actions.
Camille Bourque, a fingerprint ID expert for the Los Angeles Police Department, and Peter Morejon, an airport superintendent of operations for 29 years, repeatedly tried to exercise their First Amendment rights. But their requests were simply ignored by EAA.
Bourque has never signed a membership or dues authorization with EAA, while Morejon signed his membership card some time prior to 2005 with the understanding he could opt out at any time.
Flat out ignoring public employee requests to leave the union and stop paying dues is now a strategy developed across a variety of government unions to keep their gravy train flowing, as a growing number of taxpayer-funded employees are learning.
Afterall, why let employees keep their own money when you can keep taking it by ignoring their letters, emails, and phone calls?
“When Janus was issued, unions made a conscious decision to resist it by contesting every potential member loss,” said Timothy R. Snowball, litigation counsel with the Freedom Foundation, which is representing Bourque and Morejon pro bono in the lawsuit. “They’ve done this in a variety of ways, including imposing arbitrary opt-out windows, and now simply refusing to speak to employees.
“But the arrogance of the Engineers and Architects Association has taken that strategy to a whole new level,” he said. “As far as they’re concerned, a Supreme Court ruling isn’t even worth acknowledging.”
“I do not support the union’s political activities and want to exercise my right to immediately resign from the union and cease any union dues collected,” said Bourque. My right to opt out has been ignored entirely by my union. In fact, the union did not even ask me why. They have continued to take funds from me illegally. My constitutional right to cancel union dues has been obstructed by the union and my employer.”
“When I hired on with the City of Los Angeles over 29 years ago, union dues were automatically taken out of my paycheck,” said Morejon. “As the years went by, I didn’t see much value; the only consistency was automatic dues deductions from my hard earned pay every two weeks. After the 2018 US Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, I believed my union would change its ways and fight for those of us who felt marginalized. It didn’t. When I finally decided to opt-out of paying union dues, what I thought would be a simple process as sending a certified letter turned out to be several months of emails and telephone calls requesting they stop deducting money from my pay.”
The suit, filed in federal court for the Central District of California, also names the city of Los Angeles and California Attorney General Rob Bonta as defendants.
“It’s one thing to falsely claim they want to enforce a contract, as government unions have done in the past,” continued Snowball. “It’s entirely different to infringe on someone’s constitutional rights by simply ignoring their attempts to exercise them. The City of Los Angeles is complicit in taking dues illegally from these public employees and its leaders must be held accountable.”
As Snowball noted, in addition to seeking damages against the union, the Plaintiffs are also seeking monetary relief against the city. “When a municipality acts unconstitutionally, it is just as liable as another other state actor,” he emphasized.
“The union is wrong, and its leaders know it,” Snowball concluded. “But rather than conceding that fact, they’re determined to play out their losing hand down to the last card. Even if they can’t win the case, they’re determined to scorch as much earth as possible in the meantime to send a message to other members who might be considering asking for their freedom, too.” Snowball said unions have bullied their members this way for decades with the resources – and politicians – that can be bought with billions of dollars in dues. But the Freedom Foundation is determined to stand up for the rights of workers. Now more than ever.