Lawsuit Targets California Union’s Political Slush Fund

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(The opinions expressed in guest op-eds are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of RedState.com.)

In recent weeks, a dedicated state physician, Dr. Robert Espinoza, has been in a near legal death struggle with the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, AFSCME Local 206 (UAPD), which is insistent on taking Dr. Espinoza’s money for its own political slush fund without his consent and spending it to influence state politics.

This includes contributing money to defeat the recent failed effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The result has been a federal civil rights lawsuit, and two applications for a temporary restraining order filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles (1st TRO, 2nd TRO).

Since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in 2018 that public employees have a First Amendment right to refuse to subsidize the political activities of government unions, those same unions have turned evading this legal precedent into an art form.

This includes colluding with their legislative cronies to pass new laws protecting their activities, inducing employees to sign purportedly restrictive union membership agreements, and even forging employees’ signatures on these cards.

Now they’re attempting a new tactic to undercut the Constitution.

Case in point, Dr. Espinoza.

A respected physician and state employee of the California Correctional Health Care Services at Chino State Prison, Espinoza was told that, in addition to regular membership dues deducted from his paychecks, his membership agreement also authorized the union to rake off money for something called the UAPD “Political Action Program.”

Unlike many scenarios giving rise to lawsuits filed in this area, not only is the union taking his money in the form of union dues for its own political pet projects, but UAPD’s program operates as a funnel of members’ money for the union’s favorite California candidates and causes.

These include, but are not limited to, giving Espinoza and his coworkers’ money to:

  • MA for CA State Treasurer 2022.
  • Calderon for CA Assembly 2022.
  • Gonzalez for CA Assembly 2022.
  • Atkins for CA Lt. Governor 2026.
  • CA Independent Leadership Alliance.
  • Atkins for Lt. Governor 2026.
  • Garcia for CA Assembly 2022.
  • Pan for CA State Senate 2018.
  • Californians for Responsible Healthcare.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. UAPD, like many government labor unions, no longer simply advocates on behalf of its members for better wages, hours, and working conditions. Instead, it is a political action committee in everything but name.

This might be perfectly constitutional if members had actually consented to their money being spent this way. But upon joining UAPD, Espinoza was explicitly informed in a letter by the union president that his political contributions were entirely voluntary.

All he had to do to end the deductions was let the union know.

Only they didn’t end. Even though Espinoza sent UAPD a letter making clear he did not consent to his money being taken by the union and used for any purpose, especially spending on politics.

Regardless, the union just keeps taking his money and giving it to California politicians and issue campaigns of its own choosing. Whether he likes it or not.

Having just crossed the historic threshold of aiding 100,000 public employees to exercise their First Amendment right to opt out of union bondage, the Freedom Foundation is now taking one of the worst offenders, UAPD affiliate American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), back to court on behalf of Dr. Espinoza.

Left with no other options, Dr. Espinoza took the union and its state accomplices to court and asked for a temporary restraining order to immediately protect his rights. And in a surprising move, Judge David O. Carter denied his application on the basis that Dr. Espinoza should be bound by the terms of a ­non-existent contract.

And to add insult to injury, UAPD has continued to take Dr. Espinoza’s money even after representing to the Court that the behavior would cease, necessitating the filing of a second motion for a temporary restraining order, which is currently pending.

UAPD and other government unions simply can’t have it both ways.

Either government unions are private organizations simply minding their members’ interests, or they are pseudo-arms of the state using the force of law to seize members’ money without their affirmative consent for use on their favorite Sacramento politicians and campaigns.

For Dr. Espinoza and other public workers in California, the fight is only just beginning.

Timothy Snowball is a California litigation attorney with the Freedom Foundation.