UC health worker sues public sector union, attempts to terminate membership

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Amanda Ramirez/File

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University of California health worker Liliana Hernandez is suing a public sector employee union that allegedly continues to deduct dues from her payroll, despite her attempts to terminate the membership.

Hernandez, who works in the UC Irvine health services division, alleges in her class-action lawsuit filed Aug. 31 that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Local 3299 — the UC’s largest employee union — is still collecting dues from her despite her repeated attempts to terminate her membership.

Hernandez said she opposes paying membership dues to AFSCME Local 3299 because she disapproves of the union’s “political advocacy and collective-bargaining activities,” according to the lawsuit.

“The defendants are continuing to violate Ms. Hernandez’s rights by deducting union dues from her paycheck — even after she clearly and unequivocally communicated to both the union and her employer that she wants to terminate her union membership and halt the payroll deductions of union-related fees,” the lawsuit reads.

Hernandez informed AFSCME Local 3299 of her membership termination July 12 but alleged that union dues are still being charged, despite attempts to follow cancellation instructions, according to the lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME in June that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions. Before the ruling, employees were required to either pay union membership dues in full or to resign their union membership and pay a slightly reduced amount in fees.

“Hernandez seeks classwide relief on behalf of all current and former AFSCME Local 3299 members who never would have agreed to join or pay money to the union in a Janus-complaint right-to-work situation,” the lawsuit reads.

Hernandez’s lawsuit seeks to extend the Janus ruling, according to campus law professor Catherine Fisk. Janus v. AFSCME, Fisk said, does not address how public sector unions must handle employee requests to terminate union membership and to cease paying union dues.

Hernandez is represented by Sacramento lawyer Bradley Benbrook and former Texas solicitor general Jonathan Mitchell, who is the lead counsel in a string of ongoing lawsuits against public employee unions.

Neither Mitchell nor UC Office of the President was available for comment as of press time.

Fisk compared union dues to health insurance, stating that a patient anticipating a surgical procedure might choose to apply for health insurance, but only long enough to keep the benefits.

“No health insurance company could survive if you could get health insurance just in order to pay a doctor’s bill and then get rid of it,” Fisk said. “Similarly, no union could survive if that’s the way that union dues operated.”

AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson John de los Angeles said the lawsuit has “no merit.” He added that the union is “continually committed” to the issues of its members.

Amber Tang is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.