Conservative groups sue over California law restricting public employers’ anti-union speech

Dive Brief:

  • Two conservative, anti-union organizations in California — the California Policy Center and The Center for Individual Rights — have filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging a 2018 law stating public employers, such as school board members, may not “deter or discourage” public employees from joining or remaining with a union.
  • The seven plaintiffs include Jeffrey Barke, a former member of the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education. The defendants are members of the California Public Employment Relations Board and PERB General Counsel J. Felix de la Torre. “This law makes it impossible for me and other elected public officials to represent our constituents fully and candidly,” Barke said in a statement.
  • Former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that it’s unconstitutional to require public employees to pay “agency” fees if they don’t want to be part of a union.

Dive Insight:

Experts predicted the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Mark Janus, an Illinois child support specialist, would weaken teachers unions, and opt-out campaigns have been targeting union members to make sure that happens. Reports show membership has declined, but maybe not as drastically as expected.

Meanwhile, the unions have shown their strength through walkouts, protests and strikes, and have won salary increases as well as additional positions including nurses, counselors and school social workers. Since the Janus decision, there have been more than 30 teacher strikes or walkouts across the country, with some lasting more than a week. 

The Pacific Legal Foundation in California filed a similar lawsuit last fall on behalf of two University of California San Diego employees. The cases are different than other post-Janus litigation because they focus on free speech. Other lawsuits have centered around refunds of agency fees, the windows of time employees can revoke their membership and whether unions should continue to represent nonmembers in collective bargaining.

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