UCI lab assistant sues UC system, union alleging violation of 1st Amendment

UC President Michael Drake speaks at a ceremony in June.
University of California President Michael Drake speaks during a dedication and unveiling ceremony of Michael Drake Drive this June. Drake, acting in his capacity as the president of the University of California system, is named as one of the defendants in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on July 29.
(Steve Zylius / UCI)

A lab assistant at UC Irvine is suing the University of California system and the University Professional and Technical Employees union for collecting dues from her paycheck after she resigned her union membership in June 2020.

The class action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on July 29, contends that the university system negligently deferred to the union on whether the university deducts union dues from the paychecks of employees, which led to the “inevitable result” that the union denied a request from plaintiff Amber Walker to stop deductions after she left its ranks.

According to the complaint, Walker joined the University Professional and Technical Employees union in 2018.


When she resigned her union membership she was told to mail a revocation letter to the union within a specified period to stop collection of union dues. She submitted such a letter in January, within the period stated in her dues reduction form.

According to the complaint, Walker received an email on March 30 in response to an inquiry as to when the deductions would stop. The letter stated that Walker’s request was incomplete without a valid copy of photo identification. The complaint alleges that the form submitted did not state that such identification was necessary.

Walker’s attorneys allege that the university and union will continue to collect union dues from Walker until she is able to provide a notice with a copy of her photo identification during the next revocation period, which does not open until January 2022.

“The [University of California] is leaving me helpless against these union officials who just seem to want to take my money despite the fact that I clearly don’t want to be part of the union,” Walker wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Pilot Tuesday.

“The Janus decision [a 2018 Supreme Court decision that said it is a violation of the 1st Amendment for public sector unions to apply fees to non-members] said that I should have a choice when it comes to supporting a union,” Walker continued in her email, “but [the University Professional and Technical Employees] has been denying me my rights and the university is letting the union get away with it.”

Officials at the University of California said Tuesday they could not comment on the lawsuit as they had not yet received a copy and union officials did not reply to requests for comment.

Walker’s attorneys are seeking certification of a class of university workers that, at any point after August 2019, provided notice to the union that they resigned their membership; mailed a revocation letter within the revocation period stated on their dues reduction authorization form and had money deducted from their wages by the university after the forms were denied.

Walker is seeking the refund of dues taken from her and other university employees and “to stop the State of California from enforcing its state law outsourcing the process for stopping and starting union dues deductions to self-interested union officials,” according to a news release issued by her attorneys.

The complaint also states that Walker is seeking compensatory damages and attorney’s fees for herself and all class members.

“The University of California policy that gives union bosses complete control over public employees’ own dues money creates the very situation that the Janus decision was meant to prevent: It lets self-interested union bosses devise all kinds of schemes to coerce dissenting workers into funding union activities against their will,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents Walker.

“Public sector workers should be able to judge for themselves when a union has earned their dues money,” said Mix.

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