A former office administrator with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department has filed a lawsuit against county officials and Service Employees International (SEIU) Local 620 alleging they took full membership dues out of her paychecks even though she wasn’t a union member.
Plaintiff Rosemary Banko worked for the county from 1998 until her retirement in July of this year. The county named her its employee of the month in February 2010. In the suit, she claims that the county and SEIU Local 620 violated her rights as a non-union member as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Teachers Local No. 1 v. Hudson.
That case states workers who refrain from union membership don’t have to pay dues for non-bargaining issues, including political and charitable contributions, and certain expenditures for lobbying, ballot measures, publications, organizing, and litigation.
Banko claims she never received information from SEIU Local 620 disclosing its expenses or notices informing her of her rights as a non-member—both of which unions are required by law to do. They also have to provide an administrative appeals process.
Anthony Riedel, a representative with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said Banko is seeking damages for the dues she could’ve opted out of, plus interest, as well as attorney fees.
“She also wants to make sure that other non-members aren’t being subjected to that, and that notices be posted,” Riedel said.
The foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission, according to its website, nrtw.org, is “to eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses through strategic litigation, public information, and education programs.”
As of press time, legal representation for the county and SEIU Local 620 said they had yet to be served.
“Nothing we’re doing here is different than what other government agencies do [under the law],” County Counsel Dennis Marshall said.
The union’s attorney, Ira Gottlieb, said he was still in the process of gathering facts, but that “the basic allegations in the complaint are inaccurate.”
“Our preliminary finding is that she didn’t pay full union dues,” Gottlieb said.
He said the union prepares a “pretty elaborate list” of expenditures for both members and non-members, and the county is responsible for notifying employees of their rights.
According to the memorandum of understanding between the county and the union, the union must comply with applicable laws regarding notifying employees of their rights to object; the county must supply employees with a letter by the union that describes fee obligations.
Gottlieb said the suit is a typical tactic of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation aimed at hurting unions.
“They are not about helping employees,” he said. “They’re about hampering and undermining unions … and making them as voiceless in the political and economic realm as possible.”
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and other organizations have criticized the foundation for litigating and lobbying against unions.