The Freedom Foundation on Jan. 7 filed a federal lawsuit suit in California on behalf of a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 501 whose repeated attempts to opt out of membership and dues the union promised to deal with “accordingly.”
Which is apparently union-speak for lying, stonewalling and abridging Constitutional rights.
The case, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges Terry Klee, a resident of San Marcos, sent more than 20 emails to union officials over 13 months requesting his release from membership and dues, and asking for instructions regarding the union’s complicated opt-out process.
The majority of his entreaties were completely ignored — allowing the union to claim not once but twice that his request could not be processed because it was not submitted during the union-established “opt-out window.”
“The union gave Mr. Klee the assurance, upon which he then relied, that his first request had been received and would be processed,” said Freedom Foundation attorney Elena Ives. “This was a lie, and then they spent the next six or more months ignoring him and refusing to honor the request, costing him money and violating the Constitution.”
Klee has been employed as a materials stores supervisor by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since 2010. He joined IUOE immediately and remained a member until the fall of 2019 — a little more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME ruled that public employees could not be required to join or support a labor union.
Klee requested and was granted his release from IUOE, but in November reconsidered his decision when a prison inmate filed a grievance against him.
When he asked the union for help in the subsequent investigation, Klee was informed it could not represent him because he wasn’t an IUOE member.
This was a lie, because under the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with the state of California, IUOE must represent every employee in the bargaining unit equally — including those, like Klee, who were no longer dues-paying members.
Much to his chagrin, the union offered no help even after his membership was reinstated in November 2019. He sent a registered letter to the union in late December requesting he once again be allowed to leave the union.
However, the new membership and dues-authorization documents he signed a month earlier stipulated that his opt-out request could only be processed during a two-week annual window — the dates of which were never specified.
Klee repeatedly asked IUOE officials to either honor his request, tell him when the window was scheduled to open or process his most recent request when the window did open.
The union did none of the above, responding only that his paperwork would be “processed accordingly.”
“The whole point of the Janus ruling was that unions can’t require public employees to participate if they choose not to,” Ives said. “Opt-out windows violate the ruling because, by definition, they set limits on a worker’s First Amendment rights. But even if you’re going to impose that standard, the least you can do is let the worker know when the windows open and close.”
In addition to IUOE 501, the suit names Klee’s employer, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as a defendant, along with state Controller Betty Yee and Attorney General Rob Bonta for their role in collecting the illegal dues on the union’s behalf.