A University of California Irvine lab assistant has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the university and the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union, a Communications Workers of America (CWA) affiliate.

The case, filed with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, challenges the university’s illegal seizure of union dues money from her paychecks, and its policy allowing union officials to impose a photo ID requirement limiting the right of public employees to cut off dues payments to the union.

Amber Walker’s class-action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on July 30. Her Foundation-provided attorneys argue that a California statute that makes public employers completely subservient to union officials on dues issues resulted in both due process and First Amendment violations that occurred due to UPTE officials’ photo ID requirement.

The National Right to Work Foundation won the Janus v. AFSCME case at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018. The Court declared that forcing public sector workers to fund unions as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment. The Justices also ruled that union dues can only be taken from a public employee with an affirmative and knowing waiver of that employee’s First Amendment right not to pay.

Walker’s lawsuit explains that she sent UPTE union bosses a letter in June 2021 exercising her right to end her union membership and all union dues deductions from her wages. Although Walker submitted this message within a short annual “escape period” that UPTE officials impose to limit when workers can revoke dues deductions, they still rebuffed her request, telling her she needed to mail them a copy of a photo ID to effectuate her revocation. The photo ID requirement, clearly adopted to frustrate workers’ attempts to exercise their constitutional rights, is mentioned nowhere on the dues deduction card Walker had previously signed to initiate dues payments.

The university and UPTE officials have continued to take money from Walker’s wages against her will. It appears they plan to continue to do so for at least another year as the UPTE’s arbitrary and short annual “window period” elapsed by the time UPTE officials notified Walker that her attempt to stop dues was rejected for lack of photo ID. The university is required to defer to UPTE’s dictates under the California statute that gives unions total control over public employees’ dues deductions.

Foundation staff attorneys state in Walker’s complaint that, because of the California statute, UPTE officials were able to trample Walker’s desire to keep her own money and were allowed to infringe on her First Amendment Janus rights, explaining that “The University deprives Walker and similarly situated employees of their liberty and property interests without due process of law by granting a self-interested and biased party, UPTE, control over whether the University takes monies for union speech from employees’ wages.”

Walker seeks refunds of the dues taken from her and other university workers under UPTE’s photo ID scheme. She also seeks to stop the State of California from enforcing its state law outsourcing the process for stopping and starting union dues deductions to self-interested union officials.

Meanwhile, Foundation staff attorneys are urging the Supreme Court of the United States to take up two class-action cases defending public sector employees’ First Amendment Janus rights from union boss-created “escape periods” that restrict the time in which public employees can stop financial support of an unwanted union. One of these cases, brought for Chicago Public Schools educators, challenges an “escape period” that limits the exercise of this right to one month per year, while the other brought for New Jersey educators contests a similar period that lasts only ten days per year.

“California CWA union bosses clearly value illegally filling their coffers with Ms. Walker’s money over respecting her First Amendment and due process rights. They created this photo ID requirement out of thin air to block workers from exercising their Janus rights, safe in the knowledge that California’s union dues policies would stifle any chance a public worker has of getting his or her employer to stop seizing dues money for the union,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “By giving union bosses total control over how and when workers can exercise their First Amendment Janus right to stop dues payments, California is allowing the fox to guard the henhouse to the detriment of public employees’ constitutional rights.”

Press release by the NRWLDF

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