An elementary teacher from Fremont and a Hayward school instructor are among five educators who are suing the California Teachers Association, alleging their First Amendment rights were violated after the teachers’ unions continued to illegally deduct dues after each had revoked their union membership out of political concerns.
Bethany Mendez, the lead plaintiff in the suit, received a union application in May 2018 from the Fremont Unified School District Teachers Union. Doubting the union would represent her interests, Mendez did not follow through on signing the form. She signed the document last June “believing she had no other option but to financially support the union,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
But Mendez and others said they were unaware they could decline to join the union and still be represented by them in employment contracts. Mendez resigned from the union, in a letter to the California Teachers Association on Oct. 12, said the lawsuit. Mendez said she was later harassed by union employees in effort for her to rescind the action. “Mrs. Mendez told them she did not appreciate being bombarded with pro-union propaganda while at work,” according to the lawsuit.
The complaint is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June on Janus v. AFSCME, said Harmeet Dhillon, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. The court’s ruling found it was a violation of the First Amendment to compel pubic sector employees to subsidize union activities of which they do not agree. Following the decision, unions warned membership could dwindle by up to 30 percent.
“They pushed these re-commitments knowing full well the passing of Janus may occur,” Mendez said during a press conference Monday morning in San Francisco. Furthermore, the cost of union dues, up to $1,500 annually, she added, “is a negative financial impact for a lot of teachers that live in the Bay Area where there is a high cost of living.”
Audrey Stewart, a Hayward teacher, described a similar experience, according to the complaint. After resigning last December from the Hayward Education Association, the union representing educators at the Hayward Unified School District, urged her to reconsider and continued to deduct union dues from her paycheck.
“Unions are unjustly retaining these dues over the objections and without consent of the plaintiffs,” said Dhillon. The unions never included language within applications notifying teachers of their rights to opt-out under the Janus ruling, nor did they cease making deductions afterward and return wage deductions made after the plaintiffs revoked their membership, said Dhillon.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is also named in the lawsuit, along with superintendents from both school districts — Kim Wallace from Fremont Unified and Matt Wayne from Hayward Unified — and the Fremont Unified School District Teachers Union and Hayward Education Association.
The lawsuit includes three other plaintiffs from Southern California, their school districts, and superintendents.