Operating Engineers Union Hit with Charge for Illegally Demanding Forced Union Fees from Worker in Violation of Supreme Court’s Janus Decision

By Jacob Comello
November 14, 2019

More than a year after court recognized First Amendment protects state workers from mandatory union payments, IOUE union officials claim forced fees are legal in California 

Sacramento, CA (October 31, 2019) – A Sacramento County employee has filed an unfair labor practice charge with California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) against the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Stationary Engineers Local 39. His charge, filed with free legal aid from staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, states that union bosses demanded fees from him in violation of California labor law because they violated his First Amendment rights.

The employee, Ethan Morris, works at the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant and is not a member of IUOE Stationary Engineers. According to his charge, in July 2019 he received a notice from an IUOE financial secretary which claimed that “employees who do not join the Union must pay a…fee” to the union as a condition of employment, and that such mandatory fees are “legal and enforceable in California” via direct deductions from nonmember employees’ paychecks.

Morris’ charge argues that the union’s fee demands are a clear violation of his First Amendment rights under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. In Janus, a majority of the Court recognized that union dues or fees cannot be mandatory for public employees and may only be deducted from government workers’ paychecks if they have given “affirmative and knowing” waivers of their First Amendment right not to subsidize a union.

Morris’s charge maintains that IUOE Stationary Engineers bosses thus breached his rights under California’s Milias-Meyers-Brown Act (MMBA). That statute provides Golden State workers “the right to refuse to join or participate in the activities of employee organizations” and prohibits unions from “coerc[ing] or discriminat[ing] against” employees for exercising that right. Morris demands that union officials rectify the situation by stopping the illegal fee demands and posting a PERB-approved notice informing his coworkers of their right to refrain from union activities and acknowledging that compulsory fee demands violate that right.

Across the country, Foundation staff attorneys are currently litigating more than 30 cases to defend public employees’ First Amendment rights under Janus, which was successfully argued at the US Supreme Court by Foundation staff attorney William Messenger. In addition, Foundation staff attorneys have already won several cases enforcing Janus, including one for Ventura County Community College District math professor Michael McCain after American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union officials illegally attempted to restrict the time period in which he and his colleagues could exercise their Janus rights and cut off dues payments. In July, McCain won a settlement requiring AFT union bosses to stop blocking workers from exercising those rights and to provide refunds to workers who had dues seized because of the illegal policy.

“Union bosses have been caught red-handed lying to workers about their Janus rights in this case because Ethan Morris learned his legal rights before signing them away in the face of their illegal demands. Yet, for every worker who rebuffs illegal union threats there are almost certainly thousands of workers who unknowingly sign away their rights,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “This case shows why states must proactively protect their workers’ First Amendment rights and ensure that every worker fully understands their Janus rights and must not deduct any union dues or fees unless a worker knowingly and voluntarily waives those rights.”

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The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses.  The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases per year. Its web address is www.nrtw.org.

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