Union Fees Instigate Possible Appeal, Suit





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A court decision last week supporting mandatory university union fees has prompted challengers of the ruling to vow they will file an appeal and sue at least one UC union.

The U.S. District Court ruled Tuesday that UC and California State University employees must pay a percentage of union dues even if they choose not to be members.

The decision marked round one in the legal battle over "fair share" legislation - signed by Gov. Gray Davis in October - which mandates that UC and CSU employees who are represented by a union pay a portion of regular union fees. Unions bargain for all employees, even if they are not members.

Supporters said the fair share fee defrays the cost of bargaining for non-paying members. The law's opponents, however, classified it as "legalized extortion" and pledged to appeal the ruling.

The court battle pits the National Right to Work Foundation against the California State Employees Association, a union representing CSU workers.

The foundation argued that forcing non-members to pay a fee violates their constitutional rights and goes against the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The foundation had sought an injunction to stop non-union members from paying fair share fees. But the recent court ruling means that unions could continue to collect the money until the court determines the law's constitutionality.

Currently, members of the union pay 1 percent of their monthly gross salary plus $3.50, said Stefan Gleason, the foundation's vice president. He added that non-members would have to pay 95 percent of full dues, which ranges from $350 to $600 a year, depending on the employee's salary.

The foundation has been barraged by hundreds of complaints from "victims of compulsory union abuses," Gleason said. He added that within the next few weeks, the organization will file a similar suit against the University Technical and Professional Employees union, which represents approximately 10,000 UC technical employees.

"This so-called ‘fair share' legislation is not fair at all," he said. "It forces workers to pay money to an organization which directly conflicts with their interests. There's nothing fair about that."

Union representatives said the fair share legislation compensates the union for money it must spend in bargaining for all workers.

Terre Beynart, secretary of a local division of the University Professional and Technical Employees union, said the fees will increase the power of unions to bargain on behalf of all represented workers.

"The union is doing the best it can with limited resources," she said. "Fair share is an opportunity to strengthen its bargaining power."

University Professional and Technical Employees is one of 13 unions representing workers in the UC system, she said. At UC Berkeley, Beynart said approximately 245 people - 30 percent of technical workers - are members.

She added that individuals retain the right not to join the union and may be reimbursed for fair share fees deducted from their paychecks by filing a form.

"It's really in their best interest to join the union, but if

they have religious or other objections to paying the fair share fees, they can file an objection form," she said.

UC spokesperson Brad Hayward said approximately 15 percent of the 60,000 employees represented by the union were paying dues when the fair share legislation went into effect.

He added that, with the exception of UC Santa Cruz, UC

professors are not unionized and will not be impacted by the law.

Gleason said the low percentage of dues-paying members demonstrates that ordinary workers do not think they benefit from the union.

"These unions are so unpopular," he said. "Almost 80 percent of employees, when given the choice, chose not to be in the union."

Currently, the total amount deducted from all CSU employee paychecks equals more than $4 million since January, Gleason said. He added that filing forms for reimbursement would entitle a non-member to pay 80 percent of full dues.

The law grants unions considerable power over ordinary workers, Gleason said.

"This new law has given the union almost total control," he said. "There's some fear that the union will retaliate for opposing it. The union has ways of punishing people without being caught for it."

John Kelly, president of a local division of the University

Technical and Professional Employees, said he anticipated a lawsuit, but added that he thinks the union will prevail.

"The threat of a suit is one reason there wasn't dancing in the streets when this thing passed," he said. "We expect a lot of flack from people like that."

His union has not taken a formal position on the legislation, although it supports fair share legislation in general, he said.

"Everybody who is represented by the union gets the benefit of that representation, whether they paid their dues or not," Kelly said.

Some university employees said they will challenge the fair share law.

Jacque Fowler, a funds manager at UC San Diego, said she resents having to pay the fees.

"I think they're absurd," she said. "The governor signed this bill strictly as a payback to the union. For the union to come out and force people to pay is nothing short of theft."

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