Court Orders California Union to Pay $300,000 in Illegal Seized Union Dues

U.S. Dist. Judge Garland E. Burrell, Jr. (E.D. Cal., G.H.W. Bush) ordered the Prof’l Eng’rs in Cal. Gov’t to return nearly $300,000 to state employees who were  illegally forced to pay for lobbying and other union political activities.  Burrell ruled that the union had seized almost $100 per employee over a seven-month period in 1999 and ordered  the union to pay nominal and compensatory damages to 3,200 non-union employees, totaling approximately  $298,000.

“Today’s ruling shows that California’s union officials cannot get away with ripping off the working men and women of this state,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the Nat’l Right to Work Legal Def. Fdn., which provided free legal aid to the employees.

NRTWLDF attorneys originally filed the class-action suit Sept. 1999 on behalf of Richard Wagner, an investigator for the Cal. Air Res. Bd. in the Sacramento area, and Kristin Schwall, a water quality engineer from San Diego.  In Feb. 2002, the case was deemed a class-action suit, enabling all 3,200 non-union government workers under the PECG’s statewide memorandum of understanding – also  known as a collective bargaining agreement – to join  the suit.

PECG is one of California’s most politically active unions.  At unusually high levels, union officials have seized union dues and used them to fund its ballot initiatives and other political activities. The court held that 56% of the amount charged to non-union employees was not lawfully chargeable to non-members, as it was for politics and other activities not shown to be related to bargaining.  In union budgets since 1999, the percentage of dues spent for politics has risen to more than 75% of full union dues.  In recent weeks, the state engineers filed a related class-action complaint seeking a similar rebate for dues illegally seized since Apr. 2001.

According to the constitutional protections construed by the Supreme Court in 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.  [NRTWLDF 4/23/02]