Two state university employees are suing California and the Teamsters union in federal court to strike down a state law they say violates their constitutional right not to join a labor union.
In its landmark 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court held that public workers have a constitutionally protected right to refuse to join or subsidize a union. This means that because all activities by these government unions are considered to be inherently political, including collective bargaining, such employees enjoy a First Amendment right to decide whether they should support unions and pay for their activities.
The Teamsters union has characterized the Janus ruling as “an attack on working people” orchestrated by “anti-union lawyers and billionaires.” The union recently described the ruling as “an attempt to undercut the ability of public sector workers to join together and negotiate for better pay and benefits on the job.”
“While we still believe the Supreme Court incorrectly ruled in the case and it should be overturned immediately, the Teamsters are proud of how our local unions have responded,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in June. “Members understand the value of strong unions like the Teamsters in their fight for better pay and safer workplaces.”
Before the ruling, silence was deemed to be consent, but as a consequence of the ruling, public employees now have to affirmatively consent to pay a union, and employers must acknowledge their consent before any money is taken out of their paychecks.
The lawsuit by plaintiffs Michael Jackson and Tory Smith, who work in the Special Events Parking department at the University of California–San Diego, was filed July 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
The lawsuit names as defendants Janet Napolitano, who is president of the University of California, Teamsters Local 2010, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), and California Controller Betty T. Yee (D).
According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit, Smith joined the Teamsters in 2006, unaware he had the right not to join when he took a job at the university. Jackson did the same thing in 2013 when he joined Smith on the parking staff.
When they learned of the Janus decision, they decided to exercise their rights and demand an end to their union membership, believing the Supreme Court ruling eliminated any legal hurdles to leaving the Teamsters.
But when the two men approached the union to quit, they were rebuffed. The Teamsters informed them that because they had signed a registration card in 2016, they would not be able to leave the collective bargaining unit until the union contract runs out in 2022.
When Jackson and Smith complained to the university’s administrative officials, they were informed that SB 866, a California statute signed the same day the Janus decision was rendered, specifically forbids the university from discussing their union membership, dues, or even the Janus decision itself.
This so-called gag rule made it unlawful for employees to advise employees about their constitutional rights or assist them in exercising them, and, the plaintiff’s lawyers argue, provides the union with a financial incentive to keep members in the dark about their rights in order to retain them.
“Government workers have a right to know about their constitutional rights if they’re going to effectively exercise the rights recognized in the Janus case,” PLF attorney Timothy Snowball told The Epoch Times in an interview. The case was filed in partnership with Liberty Justice Center and with support from the California Policy Center, he noted. The Liberty Justice Center represented Mark Janus at the Supreme Court.
These workers “have to not only know about the case but not have the ability to exercise their rights burdened.”
“We have a good, strong case,” Snowball said.
“The Janus case is very clear that individuals have these rights. … Janus does not place the burden on employees to opt out, it says employees have the right to opt in if they so choose.”
The California law, SB 866, is “particularly nefarious because it says if you are a public employer you are not allowed to communicate with your employees about issues concerning union dues.”
“If people aren’t put on notice of their rights, they can’t effectively exercise them.”
Snowball said he isn’t opposed to collective bargaining.
“I’m not anti-union,” he said. “What I’m ‘anti’ is unions working with politicians to use the force of law to force people into unions.”
Using the law to forcibly take people’s choices away “is unconstitutional and immoral,” Snowball said.
Karen Deniz, press secretary at the national headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, didn’t respond to requests for comment as of press time.