A two-year battle over whether a union can get the home addresses and phone numbers of Los Angeles County employees who have opted out of funding union political causes is growing more intense, and the outcome could affect labor law in the private sector.
On one side, a local unit of the Service Employees International Union representing some 55,000 county employees wants officials to turn over the confidential contact information of workers who have opted out of funding union political activities. The union says it wants to give those employees information.
On the other side, county administrators have repeatedly pushed back against the union, claiming the privacy rights of its employees will be violated if their home addresses and phone numbers are turned over to union reps.
Some say the workers could feel a chill if they knew union members could call them at home or even drop by their residence.
"The only reason anyone would request this kind of personal information would be to sell the employees something, whether that is a union membership or something else," said Gary Toebben, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "And the county is not in the business of enabling vendors to sell their employees things."
In an attempt to resolve the dispute, county lawyers filed a petition with the state court on Sept. 19, asking a judge to rule that the county does not have to give SEIU Local 721 access to the employees' confidential contact information.
While the fight currently affects public employees, labor and employment lawyers said the dispute could affect private employers that contract with unions if the union wins in court.
"If it goes up to the Court of Appeal, or California Supreme Court, unions and their counsel would cite this decision as a precedent that should be recognized in the private sector," said Nate Kowalski, a labor and employment lawyer at Atkinson Andelson Loya Ruud & Romo.
County workers are automatically covered by the SEIU contract, and the workers pay 1.5 percent of their wages to the union. Much of that money pays for collective bargaining and the like, but some of it goes to support political candidates and other politically oriented causes favored by the union. Workers can opt out of allowing their union dues to support political causes; those workers pay a lesser amount to the union. That's in accordance with a California law.
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