When people want to downplay a situation they don’t think deserves significant attention or scrutiny, they will often say, “Don’t make a federal case out it.”
Usually because they’re the ones at fault.
But what about when making a federal case out of a situation is the only way to freely exercise your basic constitutional rights?
Mike Craine is a veteran of the U.S. Army and longtime employee of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He is also a longtime union member — a former union officer, in fact — who signed his original union membership card in the previous century. 1999, to be exact.
Craine was concerned about corruption within the union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), so he ran for and served as vice president of Local 119, trying to focus on securing better wages, hours and working conditions, rather than supporting the political pet projects using members’ money.
When the union refused to take a position on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, Craine decided enough was enough. According to the terms of the agreement he signed 23 years ago, he sent AFSCME officials a letter and asked to have his membership and dues deductions terminated.
But the union wasn’t having it.
In response, Craine was sent an expired copy of a memorandum of understanding between the union and county supposedly restricting his ability to end his membership and deduction authorization to an arbitrary annual “opt-out” window.
Represented pro bono by the Freedom Foundation, Craine filed a lawsuit against AFSCME Local 119 in federal court, asking for a temporary restraining order to put an immediate stop to the union’s refusal to allow him to end his membership and the unauthorized taking, and spending, of his money.
Within hours of his filing, the union notified Craine that not only were they going to stop taking dues out of his paycheck, but it would immediately release him from membership also supposedly reimburse him for the money already taken and spent by AFSCME.
The union’s actions are telling.
AFSCME’s response reveals that it could, in fact, have stopped taking money out of Craine’s paycheck when he first made the request. That would not only have been the honest thing to do, but correct under the terms of the card Craine signed in 1999.
Further, the union’s supposed reimbursement of Craine’s money exposes the fact that its officials knew they didn’t have a proper claim to his money in the first place.
But perhaps the worst part of the union’s response to the lawsuit is that it shows the union knows its actions were wrong but continued anyway, hoping Craine would simply give up rather than fight for his rights.
And if the Freedom Foundation hadn’t been there to fight on his behalf, he almost certainly would have.
Under the First Amendment, public-sector employees have a right to decide whether they want to support a government employee union’s political speech through deductions from their lawfully earned wages.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that government employee unions are inherently political in nature, so being compelled to fund their activities amounts to a violation of free speech.
The landmark case in which the ruling was issued, Janus v. AFSCME, in fact, involved the same union Craine was forced to sue.
Obviously AFSCME and its attorneys learned very little from their defeat.
They’re just choosing to ignore the ruling and confiscate and spend as much money as they can from people who either don’t know their rights or don’t have the resources to fight for them.
AFSCME’s actions here betray a game playing out all across the state of California and the rest of the nation, and that’s why public employees need to know their rights so they can exercise them and be able to challenge the union when they violate the law.