When the United States Supreme Court affirmed in the summer of 2018 that public-sector employees can’t be forced, as a condition of employment, to fund a labor union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and other unions hatched a plan to avoid compliance.
Labor leaders would justify continuing to deduct dues from employees who wanted out by citing contracts they signed before the court case, Janus v. AFSCME, was even decided.
Under those agreements, it could be argued that members were only allowed to leave the union (and cease paying dues) during a narrow annual “window period.” No matter that those agreements never so much as mentioned the First Amendment or the fact that members were waiving their constitutional rights.
“They signed the paper,” the unions asserted. “Case closed.”
Not so fast.
What if a member modified his or membership agreement and crossed out the portion that attempted to restrict their options? Surely UTLA, overly concerned with the enforcement of fair contracts, would allow that person to leave, right?
Glenn Laird has been a teacher in California for 38 years. For the past 27, he’s operated Eagle Rock High School’s Graphics Lab, which focuses on teaching students graphic design, visual advertising and digital marketing. Over the course of his career, Laird has taught approximately 16,000 to 17,000 thousand students.
Laird has also been a proud, dues-paying member of UTLA since he first began teaching. He even spent time as UTLA’s assigned co-representative on campus, helping members understand and enforce their contractual rights under applicable collective bargaining agreements.
Until two years ago, Laird participated and supported UTLA’s efforts to ensure teachers in the district received fair pay increases. This included participation in rallies, meetings and picket lines.
But when UTLA joined in the “Defund the Police” movement last spring and began calling for the removal of police from campus, Laird decided enough was enough.
As a longtime teacher, he had witnessed numerous incidents of campus violence. In one case, a former student was even shot to death. After that experience, Laird decided a police presence on campus helped ensure the safety of both students and teachers.
Consequently, he sent a letter to UTLA requesting it terminate his membership and stop taking his money. But the union responded that, per his membership agreement, he was locked in until the next “window period,” seven months away.
There was just one problem: When Laird signed his most recent membership card, he took a marker and crossed out the window period language before returning it to the union.
Once it was accepted, that agreement became the operative contract governing his membership. For all intents and purposes, Laird should have been allowed to leave the union at any time.
But not according to UTLA, which refused to honor the terms of its agreement with Laird and continued to take his money against his will for another eight months (even after the supposed “window period” should have occurred).
So much for honoring contracts.
This week, Glenn Laird decided to fight back. With the help of Freedom Foundation, a national workers’ rights organization, Laird has brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against UTLA to protect his First Amendment and other constitutional rights.
And to get his money back.
By taking his money without his affirmative consent as directed in Janus, UTLA and Los Angeles Unified School District violated Laird’s First Amendment right not to fund speech with which he disagrees, and refusing him the opportunity to contest it.
Finally, Laird alleges that by being forced to communicate his “opt-out” to UTLA, a group with a direct financial interest in not letting members leave, instead of his actual employer, his right to due process was also violated.
Glenn Laird’s case shows that UTLA’s and other unions’ strategic reaction to Janus was never about enforcing valid contracts. Instead, it was about doing everything it could to keep members locked in against their will and keep the dues money flowing.
According to UTLA, the First Amendment and other constitutional guarantees are no more than inkblots that can be ignored when inconvenient.
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