By C. Jayden Smith
State lifeguards who filed a class action lawsuit alleging that they’ve been forced to pay union dues against their will are turning to the United States Supreme Court as their last recourse, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a previous ruling that found the plaintiffs “failed to state a plausible claim.”
As part of their lawsuit against the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) and various state officials, the lifeguards filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on Sept. 6 for the Supreme Court to hear their appeal.
The respondents in the case, which include CSLEA, California State Controller Betty Yee and Attorney General Rob Bonta, currently have until Jan. 3 to respond to the petition.
Developments since that date have encouraged the plaintiffs that their case might be granted an audience in front of the highest court in the country.
“The Court requested a response from the CSLEA union and the California (Attorney General) and Controller, a possible sign of interest in hearing the case,” Jacob Comello said in an email to San Clemente Times.
Comello is a media coordinator for the National Right to Work (NRTW) Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit providing free legal aid to workers—such as the lifeguards—whose civil rights may have been “violated by compulsory unionism abuses.”
According to Comello, the soonest possible decision date for the Supreme Court is Feb. 17, 2023, which is when the case will be sent to conference.
Back in September 2019, the 21 lifeguards—including some from San Clemente—indicated their desire to resign from CSLEA union membership and end authorizations to pay union dues. Allegedly, union officials denied the requests and stated the lifeguards must remain full members until 2023 or be fired, under the state law’s “maintenance of membership” requirement.
Most recently, the Ninth Circuit denied the group’s petition for all judges on the court to hear the case on June 8.
A panel of the court previously upheld a lower ruling that stated the lifeguards did not present a plausible claim.
In contrast, the group claims it did not agree to remain members of the union during its collective bargaining agreement, and that any compulsory payments of union speech after July 2019 went against the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.
Furthering the lifeguards’ argument for the Court to grant certiorari, their petition claimed that maintenance of membership requirements contradicted First Amendment rights by forcing employees to subsidize union speech.
In a media release from National Right to Work, the organization argued that the Ninth Circuit didn’t apply the court’s “waiver” test to the requirement by finding a clear and compelling waiver of Janus rights.
Instead, NRTW stated, the panel abided by “a vague reference” in CSLEA’s Unit 7 contract to wrongfully determine the lifeguards consented to remain union members for years.
NRTW President Mark Mix said the Ninth Circuit’s actions gave union officials complete control over public employees exercising their rights to end their membership and payments, and that the Supreme Court needed to intervene.
“That erases not only the protections against all forced dues payments provided by Janus, but even older rulings that forbade union officials from forcing full union membership and payment for union political activities on public workers,” Mix said in the release.
Regarding the case, Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor wrote an amicus curiae brief on behalf of his state, as well as 11 more including Kansas and Utah.
Taylor wrote that the Janus ruling has been ignored, in that numerous unions nationwide have attempted to compel state employees to subsidize their speech.
He also argued that union members have the same constitutional rights as nonmembers to receive protections as nonconsenting employees under Janus, and the Ninth Circuit has contradicted other states’ broad interpretation of the landmark case.
“(The states’ opinions) also reflect differing legal views on a profound constitutional question of exceptional importance to both States and public employees,” wrote Taylor. “These opinions are right, and the Ninth Circuit’s is wrong.”
Other parties with an interest in protecting persons from malicious union actions and limitations on First Amendment rights, such as The Fairness Center and the Protect the First Foundation, respectively, have filed their own briefs.
C. Jayden Smith
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.