A California educator is battling a state teachers' union over his problems leaving the organization, in what his attorneys say could be a precedent-setting legal case that ultimately forces labor unions across the country to reimburse billions in back dues to their members.
Tommy Few, a special education teacher at Sepulveda Middle School in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, filed suit late last year against the United Teachers of Los Angeles – along with the Los Angeles Unified School District and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra – claiming his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association were violated when he tried to leave the UTLA following last summer’s Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.
That ruling invalidated mandatory fees for non-members. But as a result, some unions members like Few also found themselves having second thoughts about staying on board once they learned they could save some money -- only to run into problems renouncing their membership.
“When I found out that I didn’t have to be in the union and have those dues deducted from my paycheck every month, I wanted out,” Few told Fox News. “But they tried to tell me that I could only leave during their opt-out window and that I still had to pay the dues.”
Few said that despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus case – a 5-4 decision last June that said public employees can't be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining – he faced an uphill battle trying to resign his membership from UTLA and get the school district to stop withholding dues from his paycheck.
At first, they didn't respond to his requests. Then, when he pursued litigation, the union agreed to tell the school district to stop collecting dues from him and reimbursed him for all the dues paid post-Janus.
But Few is now seeking reimbursement for dues paid since he became a teacher.
At the heart of UTLA’s argument for continuing to deduct part of Few’s wages is a clause in the California Teachers Association’s membership enrollment form, which Few signed when he took the job and joined the union, that “the agreement to pay dues continues from year to year, regardless of my membership status” -- unless the member sends a written notice opting out “not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days before the annual anniversary date of this agreement.”