In a "right to work" state, an employee may opt out of joining a union, even though the union is the recognized bargaining representative for the employee's job. However, California is not a "right to work" state. If your job classification is included in a bargaining unit that is represented by a union, then you have to be a member of that union to hold the job.
My answers to questions posted on AVVO are intended to provide general information only, and are not intended to be legal advice. Employment law issues typically require a careful case-by-case analysis. Consequently, if you feel that you need legal advice, I would encourage you to consult in person with an employment attorney in your area.
There are limited and specific ways to opt out of union membership, but it won't save you money. Dues objectors are required to pay a fair share fee roughly equal to your share of the union's collective bargaining cost. That fee is paid to one of the few charitable organizations the union and the employer agreed upon.
There is no reason to assume the union is the problem. It is more likely that the employer is the hard-nosed one. Keep in mind it is the employer that sets the initial pay for your job classification and it is the employer that was too cheap to provide benefits.
Maybe the union tried very hard to get better pay and benefits for all the employees in the bargaining unit (all the employees the union represents) but was not able to do so. Unions are only as strong as their membership. If the members don't back up the union, then the employer knows this and can force its will on the union during negotiations. For example, if you are talking about the United Food and Commercial Workers union, you may recall that the UFCW went on strike a few years ago, specifically because the employers wanted to take away medical benefits.
There are other reasons to prefer a union job to a non-union job. After you pass probation, the employer will have to have good cause to discipline or fire you. In a non-union workplace, the employer can do whatever it wants, as long as no statute says otherwise. The union also created a seniority system, so that as your tenure with the employer increases, so does your job security. You may have increasingly better benefits as time goes on, and better pay. But for this kind of thing to happen, the workers have to support the union. Otherwise, there is nothing to compel the employer to do better by its workers.
By the way: unions were the reason that most large employers used to provide medical benefits. But with the decline of unions over the past 20 years, those benefits have also declined. It should be obvious from this that employees cannot rely on the employer to take care of them.
So . . . join the union. Attend meetings. Speak up. Vote. The union is run by the people who participate, just like the country.
@MikaSpencer * * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and must not be taken as legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts which are impossible to gather on a public web site like Avvo. * * * No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. * * *