Suit Filed On Behalf of Non-Union Members

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A group of UC employees filed a class action lawsuit against the Board of Regents and two UC unions this week, charging the university coerced non-members into paying union dues.

The suit, filed in a U.S. District Court Tuesday, accuses the UC system of violating employees' First Amendment right to freedom of association by mandating that non-members pay union fees.

Under the "fair share" legislation signed by Gov. Gray Davis in October, employees must pay partial union dues, even if they choose not to be members.

Union members said the legislation helps defray the cost of bargaining for all employees, including non-members. But opponents of the legislation called non-members "victims of compulsory union abuses" and said the mandatory collection funnels money into left-wing political causes without employees' permission.

Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which is involved in the suit against the unions, said the "fair share" fees force non-members to contribute to political interests they may oppose.

He contended that only the regents - not the state legislature - have the power to govern the UC system. Forcing non-union members to pay dues is "reprehensible" and marks the beginning of a dangerous encroachment into the regents' authority, he said.

"It's forced political speech and forced association," Gleason said. "This follows the idea that people don't know what's best for themselves. It's a government policy that compels people to join political organizations. That's bad public policy."

Currently, non-union employees pay about $500 a year in union fees, while union members pay $600, Gleason said. He estimated that between 14,000 and 25,000 UC employees are not union members and that, if the legislation is overturned, it could cost the unions more than $7 million per year.

When Davis signed the legislation last year, fewer than 20 percent of employees were union members, Gleason said. That number has increased significantly since the legislation took effect, he added.

"When the law passed, 80 percent of employees were not members and did not want to be part of the union," he said. "It demonstrates how unpopular these unions are if 80 percent chose not to join them or support them financially. Now they've lost that right."

But members of two unions named as defendants in the suit said such legislation is standard practice in the state.

John Kelly, president of the Berkeley chapter of the University Professional and Technical Employees union, said the non-member dues compensate the union for the effort of bargaining for all workers. He added that the money will strengthen the union's bargaining power, a move which benefits all employees.

"Fair share just puts our union on equal footing with other unions in California," he said. "It's pretty common. It seems fair to me."

Karen MacLeod, president of the 10,000-employee University Professional and Technical Employees union, said the union has made an effort to reach out to non-members.

"We have done everything we can to comply with the law, and we've given out all the information we're required to," she said. "We believe the lawsuit will not prevail."

The National Right to Work Foundation has been instrumental in filing a similar lawsuit against union members in the California State University system.

As part of that suit, the U.S. District Court ruled in February that state university employees must continue to pay "fair share" fees until the court determines the law's constitutionality. The case is still pending.


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