Two long-time Los Angeles city employees have filed a federal lawsuit against the city and their union, alleging their First Amendment rights were violated because the city deducted union dues from their pay without their consent and, when they protested, their requests to end the deductions were met with the “silent treatment” by the union.
In other words, the employees’ First Amendment rights were simply ignored by their union, the Engineers and Architects Association (EAA). But it will take a lot more than “sounds of silence” to keep Camille Bourque and Peter Morejon quiet.
Bourque has worked for the city for 22 years as a fingerprint ID expert for the police department. Before the U.S. Supreme Court held in its 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME that it violates the Constitution to force public employees to fund unions against their will, California law permitted the city and EAA to take her money without her consent.
But after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the First Amendment protects public workers from having their money taken by unions without their permission, the deductions from Bourque’s pay should have immediately ceased.
But they didn’t. Instead, the city and EAA continued to garnish Bourque’s wages, even though she never signed any kind of union membership agreement or authorized the city to withhold dues from her pay.
When Bourque informed EAA that she wanted the deductions to cease immediately, the union simply refused to acknowledge her request or communicate with her at all.
When she finally got ahold of someone, she was told that her ability to “leave” the union was restricted to a small, annual opt-out window specified in the fine print of the union’s membership form—a document that Bourque never signed and which does not apply to her.
So much for the First Amendment. EAA has continued to take her money without her consent to this day, in direct contravention of her constitutional rights.
Peter Morejon has a similar story. Morejon has worked for the city as an airport superintendent of operations for 29 years. Unlike Bourque, he actually did sign up for membership in EAA way back in 2005. But the membership form he signed at the time did not limit his ability to resign in the future; he was free to end his membership and payments at any time without restriction.
When Morejon received a union mailer encouraging him to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket in 2020 he, like Bourque, decided he was finished funding the union’s speech.
But his dues cancellation request was also met with the sounds of silence from EAA.
His letters, calls, and emails all went unanswered. The only acknowledgement he ever received from the union was an administrative assistant telling him that his request was “on the director’s desk.” For four months, EAA continued to take Morejon’s money without his consent before eventually ending the deductions.
Maybe someone should buy the director a better letter opener.
This practice of ignoring public employees’ requests to end union payments appears to be a part of a larger campaign by unions and their allies in state and local government to obstruct application of the Janus decision and, hence, the First Amendment.
These efforts have included:
- encouraging employees to sign deceptive membership agreements that purportedly only allow them to “opt-out” once a year during a narrow escape period;
- enacting new “gag rules,” like California’s infamous SB 866, which prevent government employers from telling their employees about Janus or their First Amendment rights; and,
- forging employees’ signatures on union membership and dues deduction authorization forms.
Most recently, the examples of Bourque and Morejon indicate union officials are electing to simply ignore taxpayer-funded employees trying to exercise their First Amendment rights. But the First Amendment rights of public employees across Los Angeles, and the entire country, deserve more protection.
So, Bourque and Morejon have taken the City of Angels and EAA to federal court.
Their complaint, which was filed on May 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges their First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech was violated. Relatedly, the employees are also accusing EAA and the city of violating their due process rights by failing to provide them any opportunity to contest the unauthorized deductions and by allowing the union, which has no incentive to stop taking employees’ money, to dictate the terms of the “opt-out” process.
Bourque and Morejon are seeking damages from both the City of Los Angeles and EAA, as well as court orders to ensure that these kinds of violations cease. Hopefully federal courts agree and act decisively to ensure that such abusive treatment of public employees never happens again.
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