Ms. Z, a janitor unionized by the California School Employees Association (CSEA), called the Freedom Foundation last week because she was in a pickle.
She had recently ceased her union dues deduction to CSEA for a host of reasons but had an issue with her disability accommodation at her workplace. She came to her union with a grievance and it agreed to represent her and fix the problem.
That was until union officials discovered she was no longer a dues-paying member, at which point they concluded there was nothing the union could (or would) do for her.
As far as the union is concerned, issues surrounding disability accommodation are not technically included in the collective bargaining agreement between Ms. Z and the school district, so they told her she would have to go it alone.
Feeling like she had been discriminated against, she reached out to the Freedom Foundation for advice on the issue.
Unfortunately, this is a common problem that many public employees face when making the decision to cease paying union dues.
The Education Employees Relations Act (EERA) gave employees of school districts and higher education institutions that right to collectively bargain and unionize, but also stated unambiguously that, in return for this privilege, unions must “fairly represent each and every employee in the appropriate unit” — even those who’ve either opted out of the union or never joined in the first place.
Essentially, this means that anything inside the collective bargaining agreement must be applied fairly to all unit members, free from discrimination. In the same way that this may protect union members from racist or sexist union bosses, it also protects non-members from unfair practices.
Unions are quick to cite this responsibility as a reason why all employees should be required to pay dues but develop a bad case of amnesia when it actually comes time to live up to it.
Since the grievance process is part of Ms. Z’s collective bargaining agreement, she should be treated no differently than every other member in the bargaining unit. Denying her the ability to file a grievance would be just like claiming that pay raises and paid time off, both governed by her collective bargaining agreement, also don’t apply to her.
While we did offer to have our legal team look into representing in an unfair labor practice against CSEA, Ms. Z had other plans.
She attended a meeting with her local union leadership and asked point blank — “Are you refusing to represent me because I’m not a union member?”
After some back and forth, CSEA recanted its previous position and agreed (again) to represent Ms. Z’s disability grievance.
After informing us of her victory, she had the following to say about the Freedom Foundation’s assistance:
“You guys gave me the confidence to confront them. I was able to go in there with my shoulders back — not cocky now, because that’s not how you’re supposed to do it — but confident. I just didn’t know my rights. And once I knew, I knew what to say.”
Ms. Z is just one of the many public employees who didn’t know their rights due to a purposeful and targeted campaign by their union to keep them in the dark. Our mission to educate public employees empowers these workers and gives them the tools to successfully advocate on their own.