(SAN FRANCISCO) — Five California teachers this week filed a class-action lawsuit against the California Teachers Association alleging the union violated their First Amendment rights by continuing to deduct union dues from their wages over their repeatedly stated objections.
The suit, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims CTA operatives pressured the teachers to join the union without informing them of their constitutional rights. Last June the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME ruled that public-sector workers cannot be compelled to financially support a union as a condition of employment without a showing that the employee provided “clear” and “affirmative” consent for union dues deductions.
The teachers claim the union never informed them of the rights recognized in Janus, instead implying union dues or agency fees were still required, and that the paperwork — which included language purportedly making dues payments irrevocable — was simply routine.
Later, when the teachers attempted to opt out, the union responded by terminating their formal membership, but continuing to deduct dues from their paychecks. The teachers contacted the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit West coast policy organization, when they were prevented from exercising their constitutional rights.
“The Janus ruling stated unambiguously that unions and government employers cannot collect dues from public employees until they affirmatively and knowingly authorize the deductions,” noted Mariah Gondeiro-Watt, a Freedom Foundation attorney representing the plaintiffs.
“An employee who joins a union and pays dues is, by definition, waiving a right guaranteed by the First Amendment,” she said. “The court emphasized that the employee must fully understand the choice they’re making. But how could teachers who signed the CTA’s misleading form prior to Janus have understood they were being asked to waive a right that hadn’t yet been recognized? And for teachers that have signed up after Janus, the CTA has made no effort to get the knowing and affirmative waiver required by the Court.” Gondeiro-Watt maintains any union membership card signed before June 27, 2018 — or after, unless the union can show the signee was fully apprised of his or her rights — is worthless.
“It doesn’t make any difference when the teachers signed their membership forms,” Gondeiro-Watt continued. “No membership agreement before or since Janus is valid unless the public-sector worker affirmatively and knowingly agreed to waive his or her First Amendment rights.”
In addition to CTA, the suit names as defendants:
- the National Education Association;
- the Fremont Unified District Teachers’ Association;
- the Valley Center-Pauma Teachers’ Association;
- the Hayward Education Association;
- the Tustin Education Association;
- the Fremont Unified School District;
- the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District;
- the Hayward Unified School District;
- the Tustin Unified School District; and,
- California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The plaintiffs seek unspecified “compensatory, declaratory and injunctive relief.”
“The fact that the unions have no qualms about taking money from teachers who have disavowed union membership shows conclusively that they really only care about money,” Gondeiro-Watt said. “Which validates the teachers’ decision to opt out in the first place.”