(LOS ANGELES) — Robert Espinoza, M.D., a practicing physician at the California Institution for Men, a state prison located in Chino, Calif., has filed a federal lawsuit and two applications (First TRO, Second TRO) for a temporary restraining order in an attempt to protect his First Amendment rights.
The Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD) is a government union and pseudo-arm of the state in the practice of taking members’ and non-members’ money for use in UAPD’s “Political Action Program,” a slush fund designed to influence and disrupt California politics, including defeating the recent failed effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The presence of an overt political slush fund used to support specific California politicians and issues makes Dr. Espinoza’s case unique among those challenging the unconstitutional conduct of government unions in recent years.
The suit also lists UAPD’s state accomplices — California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS), California Controller Betty Yee and state Attorney General Rob Bonta — as co-defendants because they directly take unauthorized deductions from Espinoza’s lawfully earned wages for use by UAPD in its clandestine political activities.
“It is one thing to claim that people who signed agreements with unions are bound to pay membership dues,” said Timothy R. Snowball, attorney with the Freedom Foundation, a national nonprofit providing Dr. Espinoza with pro bono legal representation, and lead attorney on the case.
“But it is quite another to take someone’s money for overt use in a union’s campaigns to elect candidates or push preferred political issues.”
He added, “It doesn’t matter in principle whether we are talking about $100, $1 or a single penny. The constitutional principle still applies.”
Espinoza did not initially join the union when he started work as a prison physician for the state, choosing instead to pay a so-called “agency fee” in lieu of dues. But when he discovered the fee amounted to 99.75 percent of regular dues, while denying him a vote in union elections, he agreed to sign a membership card in May 2018.
In addition to $217.73 in dues, UAPD also deducted $16 per paycheck for its political action fund, with the money funneled to the union’s preferred candidates and causes. Supposedly, the fee was entirely voluntary, and his consent could be withdrawn at any time without restriction.
By coincidence, barely two months after Dr. Espinoza signed his contract, the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME ruled that mandatory union membership, as well as dues and agency fees, in the public workplace are a violation of the employees’ First Amendment rights.
During the fall of 2020, appalled by the candidates being supported by UAPD with his dues money and fees, Dr. Espinoza spent several months wrangling with the union before contacting the Freedom Foundation looking for help.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, the union had illegally taken $1,183.96 in dues and $368 in fees and sent it to UAPD for its political pet projects, adding up to a total of $1,551.96.
Despite submitting a formal request to disassociate himself from UAPD in December 2020, the union has continued to deduct both dues and explicit political fees from Dr. Espinoza’s check.
Upon filing the lawsuit, Dr. Espinoza filed an application for a temporary restraining order with the Court, seeking to immediately end the unauthorized deductions from his pay. Shockingly, his request was denied by Judge David O. Carter on the basis that Dr. Espinoza should be bound by the terms of a non-existent agreement to allow UAPD to keep taking his money.
And adding insult to injury the Defendants have continued to take Dr. Espinoza’s money, necessitating the filing of an additional application for a temporary restraining order, which is currently pending.
“Legally, all political deductions should have stopped when Dr. Espinoza submitted his opt-out request in December 2020,” Snowball said. “The political fee was always voluntary and the court’s ruling in Janus affirmed that the arrangement under which he agreed only months earlier to join and pay dues was unconstitutional to begin with.”
“But even at that,” Snowball said, “the deductions should have stopped in July. They didn’t.”
Snowball said the union’s tactics are just part of a larger strategy to ignore and circumvent the Supreme Court’s clear intent in Janus.
“There are literally billions of dollars at stake here,” Snowball said. “The unions have made a policy decision to contest every opt-out as a warning to anyone considering doing the same thing. And the Freedom Foundation has made a commitment to do everything in its power to fight back on behalf of the rights of public-sector workers, in California and across the United States.”