Two California healthcare workers are suing their local union and the government for illegally collecting dues payments.
Jeffery Lum and Andrew Li are leading a class action lawsuit against SEIU Local 521, alleging that the union illegally docked their paychecks for dues money. Lum and Li are pharmacists at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, a county-owned hospital that primarily serves Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare beneficiaries, as well as trauma patients.
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The pair opted out of union membership and chose to become agency fee payers, allowing them to pay solely for representational activities, rather than the union’s political activities. The suit, filed in a San Jose district court, contends that the union delayed refunding the workers for their dues.
"Local 521, during the entire 2013 fee year, collected from Plaintiffs and other objecting nonmembers agency fees equal to full union dues," the lawsuit filed by attorneys at the National Right to Work (NRTW) Legal Defense Foundation says. "Local 521 did not rebate the non-chargeable fees it collected during the 2013 fee year to Plaintiffs … until March 2014."
When the union finally returned Lum and Li’s money, it refused to pay interest on the fees, which the lawsuit contends counts as an illegal interest-free loan to the labor group.
"Local 521, on information and belief, has used non-chargeable fees collected during fee year 2013 from Plaintiffs and other objecting nonmembers to support its political, ideological, and other non-bargaining activities," the suit says.
Local 521 collected $30 million in dues money from its 56,000 members and agency fee payers, who work mostly in the healthcare sector, according to federal labor disclosure filings. It spent more than $6 million on representational activities in the year, while shelling out half a million dollars in political spending and $8 million for union overhead and management costs.
Nearly 30 percent of its membership pays agency fees, rather than full dues. The union could potentially have boosted its coffers by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year if it treated all 15,000 of its agency fee payers as it allegedly did Lum and Li.
Local 521 did not respond to request for comment. A spokeswoman at the medical center declined to comment, saying that only the county could comment on the case. The county did not respond to request for comment.
The case does not just aim to recover Lum and Li’s union contribution; it also strikes at the foundation of forced unionism.
The lawsuit argues that the county government is unfairly forcing healthcare workers to join SEIU as a condition of employment. This violates the precedent the Supreme Court set in June’s Quinn v. Harris, according to NRTW. The Supreme Court ruled that the state of Illinois violated the rights of a home healthcare worker forced to pay union dues while caring for her disabled child. That decision was limited to Illinois, but led to a number of legal challenges at the state and local level.
"Since the Supreme Court has questioned the legal underpinnings of the opt-out requirements, Plaintiffs hereby seek judicial reconsideration of the ‘opt-out’ requirement," the lawsuit says. "The County has and continues to seize, and Local 521 has and continues to accept, agency fees from Plaintiffs’ wages in violation of Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights."
NRTW president Mark Mix said that the workers’ experience demonstrates the need to protect the individual rights of assembly for workers at the local, state, and national level. He urged government officials to adopt right to work laws that have been passed in 24 states to give workers a choice.
"Union bosses have government-granted power to compel workers to fund their political activities unless workers object—a power granted to no other private organization in our country," he said in a release. "The First Amendment right for workers who refrain from union membership to automatically not pay union dues for politics is long overdue."