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Union Pays $8 Million to End Claims

Times Staff Writer

A sprawling union local representing more than 100,000 home-care workers in Southern California has paid $8 million to settle claims that some workers it represented were overcharged in dues.

Service Employees International Union Local 434B mailed checks this week averaging less than $100 each to 97,000 claimants. The payment was the final chapter in a lawsuit filed three years ago by the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Foundation, which has challenged union dues collection in hundreds of similar suits across the country.

The initial lawsuit took issue with the existence of the union local, formed in 1999 through a novel arrangement with state and local governments -- which fund the home-care services -- and the elderly and disabled homebound patients who hire and direct the workers.

The Right to Work group agreed in mid-2002 to drop the larger issue if all workers who refused to join the union in the early years were reimbursed for part of the dues they paid. Under federal law, unions can collect only a portion of their regular dues from nonmembers covered under a contract. An independent audit found that about half the dues collected by Local 434B was used for political or other purposes not directly related to collective bargaining.

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Beth Garfield, who represented the union in the case, said the auditor spent more than two years tracking down workers in the high-turnover field and figuring out what was owed them. Reforms put into place in mid-2002, which allow nonmembers to make partial dues payments, have eliminated the problem, Garfield said.

“This is cleaning up the past,” she said.

The $8-million loss is a significant financial blow to a union local that drew national attention when it was formed six years ago, but that has struggled to deliver tangible benefits to members.

Years of lobbying at the state and local levels helped to boost pay to $8.10 an hour from the state’s minimum wage, now at $6.75, and to add basic health insurance coverage. But union officials said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration was seeking to roll wages back to the minimum.


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