California State Employees Win Class Action Status

By certifying  a federal suit as a class action, U.S. Dist. Judge Garland E. Burrell, Jr. (E.D. Cal., H.W. Bush) has allowed 3,200 Cal. state employees to  challenge the money confiscated for politics and other  activities by the the State and the Prof’l Engineers in Cal. Gov’t.  Nat’l Right to Work Legal Def. Fdn. attorneys filed the  lass-action suit, Wagner v. PECG, in Sept. 1999 on behalf of Richard Wagner, an investigator for the Cal. Air Resources Bd. in the Sacramento area,  and Kristin Schwall, a water quality engineer from San Diego. They filed the complaint on behalf of all non-member government workers under the PECG’s statewide memorandum of understanding (MOU) – also known as a collective bargaining agreement – who have been illegally forced to pay for union political  activities.

On Apr. 1, 1999, then newly elected Cal. Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed the MOU which forced all workers under the agreement to pay illegally high dues to PECG. “Governor Davis has done everything possible to payoff  California’s union officials, at the expense of the  working men and women of this state,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work  Foundation, which is providing free legal aid to the employees.

PECG is one of Cal.’s most politically active unions. Union bosses have seized union dues and used them to fund its ballot initiatives and other political activities. According to the union’s own records, it has been estimated that over one-third of PECG’s $3.2 million annual budget is used for political activities.

According to the constitutional protections construed by the U.S. Supreme Court in NRTWLDF-won decisions of Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ. and Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Ass’n, the union may not collect compulsory dues spent on activities unrelated to collective bargaining. Politics, lobbying, organizing, public relations, and other non-bargaining activities are explicitly non-chargeable to employees who have exercised their right to refrain from union membership.  The employees are asking the court to provide the abused workers with retroactive refunds, with  interest, on all dues illegally collected since Apr.  1, 1999. [NRTWLDF 2/25/02]

Milton L. Chappell of the Nat’l Right to Work Legal Def. Fdn. in Springfield, Va., represented Wagner and Schwall. Steven B. Bassoff of Sacramento represented the union. [BNA 3/14/02]