University of California Irvine lab assistant Amber Walker has won a settlement forcing University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union officials at her workplace to stop illegally taking dues money from her paycheck. The victory comes after Walker sought free legal aid from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys and hit UPTE officials with a civil rights lawsuit, asserting they had violated her First Amendment right to abstain from financially supporting an unwanted union.
Walker’s lawsuit enforced her rights under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. It challenged both the university’s seizure of funds from her paycheck at the union’s behest, and a university policy allowing union officials to impose a photo ID requirement limiting the right of public employees to cut off dues payments to the union. A California statute that makes public employers completely subservient to union officials on dues issues, her lawsuit argued, resulted in both due process and First Amendment violations that occurred due to UPTE officials’ photo ID requirement.
In the landmark Janus decision, the justices 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 explained 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 union-created “escape period” that was imposed 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.
By the time UPTE officials had informed Walker that her request to cut off dues was rejected for lack of photo ID, the “window period” enforced by union officials had already elapsed. Had Walker not filed a lawsuit with free Foundation legal aid, UPTE officials likely would have continued siphoning money from her paycheck for another year until the arrival of the next “window period.”
Rather than face Foundation staff attorneys in court, UPTE bosses backed down and chose to settle the lawsuit. The settlement requires UPTE officials to immediately stop taking money from Walker’s paycheck and to refund any deductions they took after her initial attempt to exercise her Janus rights. They must also desist from enforcing the photo ID requirement.
The Foundation is aiding other public sector workers across the country in defending their First Amendment right to refuse union financial support. In October, Foundation staff attorneys filed two joint petitions urging the Supreme Court to take cases brought for Alaska, Oregon, and California public servants who are battling restrictive “window period” schemes union bosses manipulated to stop them from opting out of supporting unwanted union activities.
“We at the Foundation are glad to have helped Ms. Walker reclaim dues that were illegally siphoned from her wages by UPTE union bosses, but hardworking public servants like Ms. Walker should not be forced to file federal lawsuits just to exercise their basic First Amendment rights of free association,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The fact that UPTE bosses backed so quickly off defending their own suspect behavior likely indicates that they knew their schemes would not stand up to any serious constitutional scrutiny.”