An Orange County, Calif., mother on Nov. 20 asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court ruling that allows a labor union she never joined and whose values she rejects to continue deducting regular dues from her paycheck despite a pair of Supreme Court rulings affirming her right to opt out of union membership and dues if she wishes.
Not to mention her signature was forged on the dues-authorization that made it all possible in the first place.
Since 2013, Maria Quezambra has collected a modest stipend from In-Home Support Services (IHSS) to provide home-based care for her disabled daughter. Under California law, that made her a public employee and required that she be represented by the United Domestic Workers of America (UDWA), an affiliate of AFSCME.
Quezambra, however, wanted nothing to do with the union. She disagreed with its politics and was appalled by its tactics. She never signed anything authorizing AFSCME or UDWA to deduct dues from her checks, but when they did so anyway, she assumed it was mandatory.
In 2014, however, the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. Quinn ruled that caregivers like Quezambra could not be considered full-fledged public employees and, thus, could not be forced to financially support a union if they chose not to.
In 2018, the court recognized in Janus v. AFSCME the right of all government employees to decline union membership and refuse to pay dues or agency fees, and by February 2019 Quezambra had sent her local union representative a request to opt out.
A month later, a union official notified Quezambra that a review of her file revealed she “did not properly authorize the dues deductions.” Accordingly, the union said it would not deduct dues from her future wages and promised it had “taken steps to discontinue the dues previously deducted retroactive to December 2015 . . . consistent with the three-year statute of limitation applicable to claims for dues refunds.”
Quezambra demanded details. When she received a copy of the membership card the union claimed she signed, it was obvious her name had been forged. While admitting she “had not properly authorized” the deductions, the union refused to meet Quezambra’s request for restitution.
In May, represented by the Freedom Foundation, a public policy organization specializing in government union abuses with offices in five states, Quezambra filed suit against UDWA and the state of California, which deducts dues from her paychecks on the union’s behalf.
In June, however, the case was dismissed by the U.S. Court for the Central District of California, which reached a rather curious conclusion. Judge Josephine Staton ruled that, as a matter of law, Quezambra’s claims were meaningless because: (1.) the union, which clearly forged her signature on documents authorizing it to deduct dues, is not a state actor; and, (2.) since the state Controller’s Office didn’t commit the actual forgery, it is therefore also not to be held responsible.
Consequently, justice was served — as far as the union and the state of California are concerned, that is. Meanwhile, Maria Quezambra is left waiting — all the while knowing the organization that’s supposed to represent her interests is only interested in taking her money.
By criminal means if necessary, with the blessing of the court. So far, at least.
“It really seems in this case like the system is set up to protect everyone but the victim,” said Rebekah Millard, the Freedom Foundation attorney representing Quezambra. “Her First Amendment rights are being denied on the basis of an obvious forgery. How is that even possible?”
Millard continued, “In the grand scheme of things, the relatively small amount of dues Maria Quezambra pays every month means very little to SEIU. But being able to keep that money means a great deal to Maria and her daughter.”
Quezambra’s case was appealed on to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and, depending on what it decides, could well find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.