Five public school teachers Monday filed a proposed class action against the California Teachers Association and their local labor union affiliates, alleging that school districts continue charging them union dues even though they are no longer members.
The educators, including one from Hayward and one from Fremont, said in a complaint filed in San Francisco federal district court that they weren’t told they could opt out of joining the local teachers unions. When the teachers later resigned their memberships, they say union leaders told them they had to continue paying dues until a specified withdrawal period arrived.
The teachers, represented by the Dhillon Law Group of San Francisco and the Washington-based Freedom Foundation, argue that the ongoing dues violate Janus v. AFSCME. The 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court held that forcing non-union members to pay fair-share fees—covering the costs of collective bargaining—violates public-sector workers’ First Amendment rights.
“The fact that the union is continuing to deduct dues but has accepted [the employees'] resignation shows that they are really only concerned about the money,” Mariah Gondeiro-Watt, Freedom Foundation’s California counsel, said at a press conference Monday in San Francisco. “We want to establish going forward that the unions must obtain the affirmative consent of the employees before they deduct union dues.”
The suit also names five school district superintendents and Attorney General Xavier Becerra for enforcing state statutes the plaintiffs say allow the continued, unwanted collection of union dues.
“This is just another lawsuit from the Freedom Foundation to continue the attack on public education and public employees,” California Teachers Association spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said in an email.
The Freedom Foundation, a critic of public employee unions and their political power, has been a leader in efforts to encourage workers to opt out of union membership in the wake of Janus. Max Nelson, the nonprofit’s director of labor policy, told Marketplace last fall that his organization has a $3 million to $4 million budget for a campaign targeting public workers. Their pitch has included mailers, door-to-door visits with employees, billboards and videos.
The suit filed Monday in San Francisco is similar to a class action filed by Freedom Foundation attorneys last year in the U.S. District Court for western Washington, which alleges the state and public-sector unions are conspiring to continue charging union fees to nonmember employees.
Harmeet Dhillon, lead counsel for the California plaintiffs, said the proposed class action seeks a refund of any dues taken improperly from class members as well as an order that employees be told that they are not required to join a union and that if they do sign on with a bargaining unit their dues could be spent on political activities with which they disagree.
The Supreme Court’s decision last year in the Janus case overturned decades-old precedent that permitted public sector unions to collect fair-share fees.
A similar suit, titled Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, ended in a deadlocked 4-4 ruling at the Supreme Court in 2016. The even divide, caused after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, left in place a Ninth Circuit decision that favored the union.
Read the complaint in Mendez v. California Teachers Association: