Freedom Foundation

Judge Allows Lifeguards’ Lawsuit Against Union to Proceed

A U.S. district court judge on April 10 brushed aside an attempt by CSLEA to deny justice for 22 California lifeguards seeking to exercise their First Amendment and break ties with their union.

The lifeguards — employed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation — believe their union, CSLEA, cannot be trusted to advocate impartially and vigorously on their behalf. The lifeguards have been trying to leave the union since the summer of 2019, but the union has so far refused their requests, insisting they cannot opt out until 2023 because of a maintenance of membership provision in their collective bargaining agreement.

CSLEA sought to “stay” the case, Savas v. CSLEA, pending the outcome of a separate lawsuit eventually to be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — Cooley v. CSLEA.

But Judge Dana Sabraw, from the Southern District of California, denied the union’s motion to delay, noting the “…(d)efendant has failed to prove either it will suffer hardship in the absence of a stay or that (the) plaintiffs will not suffer prejudice if a stay is imposed.”

The lifeguards believe the maintenance of membership provision and state laws allowing them were both invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which classified mandatory union membership and dues for public employees as forced political speech — a violation of their constitutional rights.

“The wording and intent of Janus are unambiguous,” said Mariah Gondeiro, litigation counsel with the Freedom Foundation, which is representing the lifeguards. “Government employees have the Constitutional right to decide for themselves whether they wish to associate with a union and support its activities. And that right can’t be watered down by state laws or language in an employment contract.”

Had Judge Sabraw granted the union’s stay request, it would have imposed a significant burden on the plaintiffs, Gondeiro said.

“If the court had decided to stay the case, we would have had to wait probably two years before we could do anything,” said Gondeiro. “This would have made it far more difficult to obtain justice for these lifeguards.”

Rebekah Millard, co-counsel with Gondeiro, comments, “ We’re thrilled Judge Sabraw ruled, these lifeguards deserve their day in court.  This case will now proceed, and we look forward to defending our plaintiffs’ legal right to leave their union .”

The Freedom Foundation, which has offices in five U.S. states, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization specializing in exposing abuses of power by the nation’s government employee unions.