County union fees upheld |

County union fees upheld

Patrick McCartney

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by five El Dorado County employees who claimed the county’s employee union charges non-members too much to negotiate their contracts.

Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the U.S. District Court in Sacramento ruled that the dissident employees had not proven that the “agency fee” collected by the El Dorado County Public Employees Union Local No. 1 – 96 percent of regular union dues – is unfair.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they will appeal the decision to the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

In their suit, the employees – Steven Prescott, Robert Berry, Cheryl Jones, Karen Pierce and Christine Turney – challenged the amount of the fee the union deducts from the salaries of non-members. Union members pay 1 percent of their salaries as dues, but under the “agency shop” rule of state labor laws, the union may charge non-members a fair share of the cost of negotiating their contracts.

Of the county’s employees eligible to belong to the union, 625 are members and 123 are not members, according to Chuck Egbert, the union’s local agent. More than 100 of the local’s members live in the Tahoe Basin, and the union also represents employees of the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Egbert said the union is entitled to the agency fee because almost all of its $2.9 million budget is spent on salaries and other expenses dedicated to contract negotiations.

“We spend very little on political action or social activities,” Egbert said.

According to the union’s financial statement, the local will spend just $15,000 this year on political activities and $7,000 on social activities, neither of which can be passed on to non-members.

But attorneys for the employees who sued dispute the union’s figures. In the lawsuit, the dissidents asked for an audit of the union’s finances, a request denied by the judge, who ruled that an accountant’s review of the financial statement was sufficient.

“They failed to provide any notion at all of the local’s expenditures,” said Jim Young, an attorney with the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The public-interest firm is assisting attorney Dain Weiner of Cameron Park.

Young said the El Dorado union ignored ground rules for union fees laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court during years of litigation over agency fees.

“We sued over their failure to comply with Supreme Court rules for the agency to collect fees,” Young said. “Even in an area where unions often overstate their fees, (the El Dorado agency fee) is high.”

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