Lifting the Rock on Labor Union Corruption


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

When his union, AFSCME Local 119, refused to take a position on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, Mike Craine decided he was finished.


A veteran of the U.S. Army and longtime employee of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Craine knows what it is like to fight back. Also, a former vice president of his local, Mike spent years angered that the union was using his money for its own political pet projects instead of securing better wages, hours, and working conditions for members.

Following the instructions spelled out on the union card he signed 23 years ago, Mike sent the union a letter and asked to be released from both membership and future deductions and political spending using his pay.

But the union refused his request.

Instead, union officials sent Mike an expired copy of an agreement between the union and county supposedly restricting his ability to end the deductions and political spending using his money.

In other words: “Sorry, Mike. You’re out of luck.”

This kind of response by unions like AFSCME has become all too common when public employees try to assert their First Amendment rights. And the majority of the time, the behavior occurs in the dark.

But in order to study slugs, sometimes you have to turn over a rock or two.

Here’s how the scheme works: A public employee has money taken out of his or her paycheck and sent to a union representing their bargaining unit. The union, in turn, uses the money not only for collective bargaining activities, but also to fund radical political causes across California.

When the employee finds out about it and objects, the union gives them the silent treatment or tells them to get lost.


Maybe the person signed a membership card, and maybe they didn’t. In situations like Mike Craine’s, these cards can be over 20 years old. In some cases, the person never signed a card or the union forged their signature.

In any event, the employee’s dues are confiscated every single pay period and sent to the union whether he or she likes it or not.

From the union they receive silence, excuses, or outright hostility. All from an organization that supposedly exists to represent their interests and is enabled and protected by state law.

What’s an employee to do?

Most have no choice but to bear it. They grit their teeth, watching their own money being used to support political causes they despise, waiting for an annual “opt-out” window during which, hopefully, they get all their paperwork filed on time and in exactly the format the union wants or they will be on the hook for another year.

This happens to hundreds of people across the state every year.

Others might try to take legal action. But private attorneys capable of pressing their rights in court likely charge hundreds of dollars an hour for this kind of case.

On rare occasions, though, the unions actually get sued and dragged into court to account for their unconstitutional behavior. And how do they react?

Suddenly they see the light.

“Sorry it took so long to process your request. We must have misplaced the paperwork or something. You’re definitely out of the union. That isn’t your signature? Really? Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it. Oh, and by the way, here is a check for the money we took. No hard feelings, right?”


The union then goes into court and tells the judge there’s no reason to continue with the lawsuit. All has been set right.


For every Mike Craine, there are dozens and dozens of employees who are never able to do anything about it.

Mike Craine’s situation is more than a one-off occurrence. It’s evidence of widespread and systemic corruption on the part of California labor unions in general, and AFSCME in particular.

Come to think of it, the unions aren’t slugs at all. They’re leeches sucking on the consistent flow of taxpayer subsidies. And as long as the status quo is maintained, and nothing is done to address the corruption, the First Amendment rights of hardworking and honest employees like Mike Craine will be forfeited.

And the Constitution worth no more than the ink on the unions’ belated refund checks.

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


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