A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday issued a ruling that will, at least temporarily, allow the United Domestic Workers of America (UDWA) to continue deducting dues from people whose signatures they forged.
The decision sets up an appeal of the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — and perhaps later the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Josephine Staton, an Obama appointee, granted the union’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed in May 2019 by Maria Quezambra, who has been compensated by In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) since 2012 for the care she provides to her disabled daughter.
Quezambra never sought union representation but, until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Harris v. Quinn, homecare providers collecting a public subsidy for their efforts were considered government employees and required to support their designated union as a condition of employment.
Harris affirmed the right of individual providers like Quezambra to opt out of their union and pay nothing; in 2018, the court issued a related decision in Janus v. AFSCME that extended the same right to all public employees.
When Quezambra discovered in February 2019 that union membership and dues were no longer required, she contacted UDWA officials requesting she be allowed to opt out.
Quezambra subsequently demanded to see the documents on which the union was basing its authority to deduct dues in the first place.
UDWA — affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3930 — mailed her a copy of a dues-authorization form with her name on it, but when the document arrived, it was an obvious forgery.
Quezambra asserts her First Amendment rights were violated when the state of California deducted dues from her wages based on a membership card forged by the union.
Judge Staton rejected her argument, however, stating that:
- the union cannot be fairly characterized as a state actor; and,
- the California state officials and Orange County are not responsible for the specific conduct of which Quezambra complains.
“So, in essence, it isn’t the union’s fault, nor is it the fault of the state or the county,” said Bob Wickers, California director of the Freedom Foundation, a national nonprofit public policy organization whose attorneys are representing Quezambra in the lawsuit.
“A union operative commits a felony by forging Maria Quezambra’s name on a membership card and the union uses it to collect dues illegally, but it’s not the union’s fault,” Wickers said. “And the judge understands the dues-authorization is bogus — and that’s OK, too. Seems like we’re more concerned about the feelings of the accused than we are the rights of the victim.”
Wickers vowed to appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit, which has its own track record of head-scratching decisions where public-sector unions are concerned. But no matter how it turns out there, an appeal by the losing side to the U.S. Supreme Court is all but certain.
“The court’s intent in both Harris and Janus was to recognize the right of government employees to decide for themselves whether to associate with and support a labor union,” Wickers said. “Under this ruling, the union gets to decide that question by committing a crime. This may make perfect sense to an activist judge in California, but it won’t fly with the Supreme Court when it gets that far.”