In Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the Supreme Court overturned the precedent allowing unions to force "fare-share" fees on nonunion government workers. The court's reasoning was that collective bargaining with government is an inherently political activity, and to force someone to pay for it is to coerce speech, violating the First Amendment.

The ruling has sent unions and locals around the country scrambling to make up for all the lost revenue. But it seems that California's AFSCME Local 3299 has created its own little loophole: Just rename fare-share fees "voluntary service fees," and voila, problem solved!

The union, which represents health workers in the University of California system, continues to charge former members who quit after Janus a "voluntary" service fee equal to regular union dues. AFSCME Local 3299's spokesman, John de los Angeles, asserted to the Sacramento Bee that "voluntary service fees are just that — voluntary." But a lawsuit filed by Liliana Hernandez would imply that this a bold-faced lie.

AFSCME Local 3299 has continued to involuntarily extract "voluntary" service fees from Hernandez's paycheck, despite her repeated attempts and requests to quit the union. Because California historically defers to unions rather than workers, if Hernandez succeeds in suing the union for violating Janus, then it could also void the state legislature's attempts to circumvent Janus.

California's unions are some of the most politically charged and toxic in the country. For example, in 2005, the California Teachers Association spent $58 million to prevent initiatives making it easier to fire bad teachers and force unions to get their members' consent before using dues for political lobbying (It later lost a court case on the latter issue). CTA has spent millions on completely irrelevant political agendas, such as pushing single payer healthcare and blocking voter ID requirements. In the past two decades, the CTA has spent $32 million on Democratic political candidates across the country, not just in California, all while presiding over the 10th worst education system in the country.

Perhaps if the union could claim that the fees truly did cover contract costs, they could be in a sympathetic, even if not a legally winning, position. But membership in California unions usually becomes equivalent to contributing to overtly political lobbying, and hopefully the courts will return to precedent and defend laborers' First Amendment rights.

(h/t Mike Antonucci.)