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Appeals Court Overturns Union-Dues Ruling

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Los Angeles teachers who are not members of the local teachers' union can avoid paying for union activities unrelated to collective bargaining only if they object in writing, a federal appeals court has ruled.

In a decision late last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously overturned a federal district judge's ruling requiring the United Teachers of Los Angeles to obtain nonmembers' consent before charging them for political and other activities not germane to local labor affairs.

Writing for the court, Judge Mary E. Schroeder held that the federal Constitution requires only that nonunion teachers be given the chance to "opt out'' of paying full dues. The union, she said, is under no obligation to ask them to "opt in.''

"The [U.S.] Supreme Court has repeatedly held that nonunion members' rights are adequately protected when they are given the opportunity to object to such a deduction and to pay a fair-share fee to support the union's representation costs,'' Judge Schroeder wrote.

Leo Geffner, a lawyer for the Los Angeles union, said the decision is significant because it shifted the burden of objection back to the employee. That is the case, he noted, in almost every school district in the country that has an agency shop, in which all teachers are required to pay to support union bargaining.

If the court had upheld the district judge's ruling, it would have set "a great precedent,'' he said. "It was an important point for the U.T.L.A. and for all other unions.''

According to the union, annual dues are about $440. Of that amount, it says, about $65 is used to pay for activities unrelated to bargaining.

When the union adopted the agency-shop provision in 1989, approximately 8,000 nonmembers were given 30 days in which to state in writing that they did not want the full amount of dues deducted from their paychecks.

Teachers represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation challenged the procedure in court, arguing that their nonmembership itself signified their objection to paying the full amount.

"We think the burden should be on the union to obtain consent,'' said James Young, a staff lawyer at the foundation who worked on the case. "[The union] has obtained consent from none of them to collect anything.''

Deducting full dues without teachers' consent is "government-enforced, government-compelled speech,'' he said.

The nonunion teachers have not yet decided whether they will appeal their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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