Dissidents Must Pay Dues, Court Rules
Union members who dislike their union’s political stands don’t have the right to withhold their dues but must pay up and then try to recover the money through administrative hearings, a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
In a victory for organized labor, the court said a requirement that dissident union members pay their fees “is similar to the requirement that citizens who question the validity of taxes assessed against them must pay first and complain later.”
The case involved 108 San Jose school teachers who withheld dues of $302 for the 1981-1982 school year, arguing that some of the money would be spent on political pursuits with which they disagreed. The San Jose Teachers Assn. sued to force them to pay.
The case is one of several across the nation involving union members who are challenging generally liberal political positions taken by their unions. Dissident union members are arguing that they should be able to withhold at least the part of their dues that goes for political causes, while still paying the remainder used for purely union activities.
Monday’s case did not deal with specific areas open to challenge. But teachers in another case are asking the court to define those issues. Union members have questioned the use of union money to endorse candidates, lobby legislators and publish newsletters.
Justice Joseph Grodin, writing for the court, noted that federal courts already have concluded that union members have a First Amendment right to protest paying dues used for political ends.
But until Monday’s ruling, it was unclear whether they must pay first, then protest, or whether they could withhold their dues. The court said that when dissidents protest their dues, unions must place the money in escrow accounts. The Public Employees Relations Board will rule on whether the protests are valid.
By using that procedure, the court said, “employees’ First Amendment . . . right not to have their fees spent for political or ideological purposes is protected.
“At the same time, the union will have access to that portion of the funds which it reasonably estimates to be . . . the amount the union may properly spend for purposes reasonably related to its role as the employees’ agent.” (San Jose Teachers Assn. v. Superior Court, S.F. 24793)
In other cases, the court:
- Reduced to second-degree murder the conviction of Jackie Lee Bower, convicted of a 1978 shooting death in Contra Costa County. The court said there was “a reasonable likelihood” that the prosecutor became vindictive after Bower in the first trial on second-degree murder charges won a mistrial. In the second trial, the prosecutor won a first-degree murder conviction. The 6-1 decision reduces Bower’s prison term of 25 years to life to one of 15 years to life. (In re Bower, crim. 23268)
- Ordered a new trial in a suit over a gasoline wholesaler’s attempt to break a lease and evict a Regal gas station operator in Vista, Calif. The lease agreement was that the operator buy only from the wholesaler, who also owned the station. But when business dropped, the station operator began buying cheaper gasoline, thus reducing the pump price. The court unanimously said the trial court should have considered evidence that the wholesaler charged too much for gasoline. (E.S. Bills Inc. v. Daniel Tzucanow, L.A. 31839)