(LOS ANGELES, Calif.) — A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employee filed suit on May 16 against the government labor union he once served as vice president, alleging it has refused to honor his request to opt-out based on a union card he signed in the 1990s.
Three hours after being served with Michael Craine’s papers seeking a temporary restraining order, the union quickly sent him a letter agreeing to let him out of the union, stop the deductions and cut him a check.
The union did the right thing — after being hauled into federal court, that is.
Michael Craine, a helicopter mechanic with the department for 23 years, informed the union in January of his wish to end his membership and $55 monthly dues payments.
Craine joined the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 19 when he was hired in 1999, and the membership form and dues authorization Craine signed clearly stated he could leave at any time merely by submitting a “written notice.”
Craine says he never wanted to join the union and was always angered that AFSCME wasted so much its time and his dues money involving itself in partisan political battles that had nothing to do with employee wages and working conditions.
His concerns led him to run for union office, and he served as Local 119’s vice president from 2014 to 2017.
Craine finally lost patience with AFSCME in January, when the union raised no objection to a policy requiring county employees to be vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus.
“AFSCME had to choose between standing up for the rights of its members and siding with an intrusive, big-government agenda,” said Timothy R. Snowball, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation, which is providing Craine with pro bono legal representation.
When Craine sent the required written notice in January 2022, he was informed that, under provisions of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) worked out by Los Angeles County and AFSCME 119, he could only opt out during an annual two-week annual window not scheduled to re-open until September 2022.
The catch is that Craine was never a party to the MOU between the union and the county. And even if he had been, the agreement had already expired by the time his request was submitted.
Craine’s lawsuit argues that his union card from 1999 controls his ability to end both his membership and the deductions, and any money taken after submission of his opt-out notice and spent by the union on political speech without contract or consent was a violation of the First Amendment.
“AFSCME clearly knows it doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” Snowball added. “Whether we’re talking about a membership card from the last century or an expired MOU, Mr. Craine has the constitutional right to decide whether a union can take his money and spend it on politics.”
“Otherwise, why would the union have caved so quickly?” he concluded. “It’s about making the process of leaving the union as painful as possible to discourage anyone else who might be considering it.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, names AFSCME Local 119, Los Angeles County, and California Attorney General Rob Bonta as defendants.
In addition to seeking a refund of the dues improperly deducted in the months since he submitted his opt-out request, Craine also seeks damages for his constitutional injuries and a permanent injunction preventing AFSCME 119 from continuing the practice in the future.