California is a forced unionism state, meaning that once a collective bargaining unit is recognized by an employer, it’s pretty hard for any employee to avoid paying union dues. But even in forced unionism states, employees have rights. “National Employee Freedom Week” was initiated in Nevada last year by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, and this year they have been joined by 60 organizations to spread information on employee rights across the U.S.
It isn’t easy to assert your rights as an employee in a unionized workplace, especially in California. Any attempt to limit union involvement typically requires “opt-out” action. That is, an unionized employee will automatically pay all membership dues, including those used to fund political contributions, unless they actively initiate action to assert their rights. In most cases, members are only permitted to take these actions to opt-out during a limited few weeks each year. Members of the California Teachers Association, for example, can only request a rebate of the political portion of their dues between Sept. 1st and November 15th, and they have to resubmit their request every year (more on rights of CTA members here).
Here are two fundamental rights employees of unionized workplaces still have in California, and suggestions on how to exercise those rights:
(1) They can refuse to pay for the union’s political activity. To do this, an employee must request to become an “agency fee payer,” which means they only pay dues for the union’s cost of collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment. As an agency fee payer, a unionized employee will not have to pay for any other activities, including the union’s political activities.
An agency fee payer is not a member of the union, but since they continue to pay the “representative” portion of their dues, the union must continue to represent them fairly and without discrimination in all matters subject to collective bargaining.
As an agency fee payer, employees are still entitled to every benefit under the labor contract with their employer, including health care, pension, step increases, etc.
A generic letter to become an agency fee payer is here. You will need your union’s address and contact information. We recommend that you make a copy of your letter and either deliver it in person and receive a stamped copy or mail it with Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested Signature. This protects you in case, a union boss “loses” your letter. We also recommend sending a copy of the letter to your employer’s payroll department.
Although the generic agency fee payer letter includes text noting that your objection is continuing and permanent, some unions will not respect this and will make you annually resubmit your refund request.
For a smooth exit, you may have to leave during specific opt-out timeframe or “window.” Ask your union for a copy of your signed enrollment form to determine when your window is.
(2) They can become a religious or conscientious objector.
If you would like to become a religious or conscientious objector, go to ChooseCharity.org and complete a simple application process that requires no additional out-of-pocket costs.
Once the application is submitted, the ChooseCharity legal staff will take care of the rest of the process.
If you become a religious or conscientious objector, your full dues equivalent will be deducted but made payable a charitable fund exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the Internal Revenue Code. You will not be a member of the union, but are still entitled to every benefit under the labor contract with your employer, including health care, pension, step increases, etc.
If you think you may want to become a religious or conscientious objector, it is important that you do not request to be an agency fee payer.
Association of American Educators (AAE) – $15 per month membership
Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) – $239 annual membership
More Information About Your Rights
Your Rights (Center for Union Facts)
Unions and Union Dues (American Center for Law and Justice)
Teacher Rights (AAE)
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