Freedom Foundation

University of California Workers Sue AFSCME Over Illegal Dues Collections

Terrance Marsh, an electroencephalographic technologist at the University of California (UC), never shared AFSCME 3299’s political ideology but agreed to join anyway in January 2018 because a union official told him membership was mandatory.

At the time, full membership was not a prerequisite for employment and public employees could instead pay the union a so-called “agency fee” that only covered its collective bargaining costs. However, the U.S. Supreme Court last June affirmed in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees like Marsh have a First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech in the form of union dues or fees.

Upon learning of his constitutional rights, Marsh tried to leave the union and stop all deductions, but AFSCME 3299 — in clear violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling — threw an endless series of obstacles in his path to make the process as difficult as possible.

On Tuesday, Marsh and six co-plaintiffs — all UC employees — filed suit in California’s Eastern District Court demanding the union be forced to follow the law.

In addition to the union, the suit names the UC Board of Regents and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as defendants.

“It’s not as though AFSCME 3299 can claim it never heard about the Janus ruling,” said Mariah Gondeiro, litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation, a policy organization with offices in four states that’s providing the plaintiffs with legal representation.

“AFSCME was a party to Janus,” she noted. “If anyone should understand what the law requires, it’s them.”

According to the lawsuit, “The union keeps employees locked into membership and forces them to pay dues or fees through use of a cumbersome multi-step revocation process.”

First, union members who wish to withdraw union membership are required to submit a written revocation during a 30-day period prior to an unspecified date in their respective collective bargaining agreement.

This process is not made apparent to the union members because they are not given a copy of their membership form which includes the directions. They’re forced to reach out to union representatives for help. The practically useless union reps either evade their requests, provide conflicting information or simply refer them to membership forms referencing a confusing website with several CBAs.

Even UC employees who successfully navigate out of the union are then still required to undergo a second revocation process to terminate the union’s “service” fee deductions.

The “service” fees renew each year on the anniversary date of the employee’s union membership unless the employee mails a signed revocation letter to the union between 75 days and 45 days before such annual renewal date. Predictably, it is the worker’s responsibility to find out exactly when his or her window period starts and ends.

“The union’s policy of deliberate obfuscation,” Gondeiro explained, “has prevented the plaintiffs from exercising their First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech in the form of automatic payments to the union.”

In addition to a refund of dues illegally collected from the workers’ paycheck and general damages, the suit seeks declaratory judgments stating that the defendants’ deduction scheme violated their constitutional rights.

The Freedom Foundation founded and based in Olympia, Wash., has branch offices in Oregon and California, and expanded last month into Ohio.