Association wins Victory on Dues Issue

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The California Teacher’s Association won a large victory for unions and organized labor in the United States Supreme Court on May 26, 2016. The justices deadlocked 4-4, which means that lower court’s ruling in the matter stands.

The case involved ten teachers from California and the Christian Educators Association International who jointly sued the California Teacher’s Association (CTA). The CTA is one of the largest and most powerful teachers’ unions in the country.

California is one of 23 states which requires public employees like teachers to pay a mandatory fee to the union even if the employee is not a union member. The state and unions reason that since all teachers benefit from the association’s collective bargaining efforts, then all teachers should pay for these costs.

The teachers argued that this “agency shop” law, which requires teachers to pay union fees as a condition of employment, is unconstitutional. The teachers believe that the rule violates their freedom of speech and freedom of association. Some teachers do not want to join the union because they disagree with unions in general, and others disagree with the CTA’s widespread political activities. Others simply do not believe they should be forced to pay money for an organization that they do not want to join.

The tied decision was expected after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Since the Court only has eight justices, a tie leaves the lower court decision in place but does not decide the issue permanently. The case can still be re-presented to the Supreme Court once a ninth justice is in place.

Many legal observers believed that Justice Scalia would have ruled against the unions. If this were the case, the decision would have caused a major blow to unions across the nation and would have greatly decreased their power. If the decision were overturned, non-union employees would no longer have to contribute to the union’s collective bargaining costs, and the impact would be substantial.

Anti-union activists have vowed to present the case again, and many believe that the issue is important enough that a full panel of justices will agree to re-hear the case. Unless or until that happens, California law still allows unions to charge non-members dues or fees in order to support their activities.

Concerned Over Employer Arbitration Agreement?

ArbitrationMany employers want their employees to sign “arbitration agreements” requiring disputes that arise in the workplace be resolved through arbitration rather than in the courts. Arbitration is decided by a neutral third person, often a retired judge, who makes the decision as to the dispute. This means a jury will never hear your case.

This kind of agreement in the workplace have become commonplace. Employers use these agreements, because they believe the agreement will prevent disputes from going to the courts and result in more favorable treatment of employers. It is widely believed that arbitration is less expensive than courtroom litigation; however, that question is up in the air.

In the course of normal litigation, a lawsuit is filed by an employee. The employer typically pays out thousands of dollars to their attorneys to defend the court action brought by the employee. At some point the case may go to arbitration hearing unless it is settled along the way. In a California employment arbitration setting, the employer must pay most of the case costs and in many cases, the costs are more than the employer would pay in the courts.

The risk to employers is potentially greater in arbitration than in the courts. Particularly in cases involving nonpayment of overtime, the prevailing employee can recover attorneys’ fees, but the prevailing employer does not usually recover their attorneys’ fees. Worse for the employer, if they get an unfavorable decision against them by the arbitrator, the decision is usually non appealable.
There may be many reasons why employers want employees to sign arbitration agreements. The advantage for an employer in the this setting is that there is no jury, which is good because juries are unpredictable. While some studies indicate that employees win larger awards in a court trial, there is little evidence that the employers would have done better in arbitration.

There are some advantages to the employee in arbitration. Arbitrations are less formal than the court process and usually take less time than it would take to get to trial. If you’re required to sign such an agreement to obtain or keep your employment, you may want to have an attorney review the agreement and give you advice as to whether or not you should agree to the provision.

Were You Asked to Sign Something Just to Get Paid?

fiprkThe day an employee leaves their job can be a very emotional experience, even if the employee is leaving the job by choice. It is often much more so if an employee is being fired or laid off for lack of work. It makes sense, in a world where most people work paycheck to paycheck. When a job is ending, people often wonder where their next month’s rent is coming from and whether or not they’re eligible to collect unemployment.

Too often, an employer will ask an employee to sign something on this day. And employees will sign it, sometimes without even reading it, believing it is necessary to get their final paycheck. Often, they are very concerned about what their employer will say to prospective employers who call and ask about their job performance and behavior. Sometimes, employees will sign anything just because they want things to be gotten over with.

However, employees should carefully read anything they’re asked to sign regarding their employment, especially at the end of their job. The employer could be trying to get the employee to agree they have been paid everything they are owed, or even waiving their rights to sue in exchange for a small severance payment.

Labor Code 206 and 206.5 may protect employees in this situation. Labor Code Section 206.5 clearly states that an employer cannot require an employee to sign a release in order to get paid. Violation of this section can be a misdemeanor, and it covers claims regarding wages due or about to become due. Labor Code Section 206 states that in any dispute over wages, the employer shall pay the undisputed amount due within the required time limits. Triple damages can sometimes be recovered in this situation under the code. This section also provides that the employee still has the right to bring a lawsuit over disputed amounts paid, even if the employer pays the undisputed amount.

One thing an employee shouldn’t have to worry about is whether or not they’ve been paid all their wages, especially when they’re in a precarious situation to begin with.

Do You Have a Favoritism Situation, a Nepotism Case, or Discrimination?

nepOur office just received a call from an employee asking if it was legal for their boss to treat family members better than the other employees who work for them. This is a question that comes up regularly, and it is a valid question, because it involves an issue of basic fairness. Often, the caller describes a person who is related to the boss that does less work, gets more pay or gets a better schedule than the employees who are not related in these calls. The legal term here is nepotism. It means a family member is getting better treatment than the rest of the employees simply because they’re related to the boss or owner of the business. The truth is that unless you’re working for the government, and are covered under a Government Code Section, there are no specific laws preventing an employer from treating an employee better than the rest because they are related.
However, an employer could be breaking their own anti-nepotism policy. Such policies can often be found in an employee handbook. At times, union contracts forbid such treatment and require that things like preferred schedules or jobs be based upon seniority, or another neutral criteria. Sometimes, a breach of contract or breach of implied contract case can be the result of such a situation.
But, just because you don’t work for the government, have a contract or an anti-nepotism policy — that doesn’t mean you don’t have a case. Situations that look like nepotism can actually turn out to be a possible discrimination case. If you are being treated differently because of your gender, age, race, nationality or sexual orientation, you may have a violation of the law taking place. Such cases are generally fact specific and will require an interview with an experienced law office to determine what is happening.