Cash-hungry union executives forged an Oregon worker's signature in order to deduct money from her paychecks, according to a new lawsuit.
The suit, filed in late March, accuses a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) of forging Staci Trees's signature on a membership card authorizing the continued withholding of union dues from Trees's paycheck. The Oregon woman is turning to the courts to intervene and curtail labor union influence.
The suit is alleging the local chapter of the union, SEIU 503, violated federal racketeering law by deceptively continuing Trees's membership and requiring her to continue paying dues after she attempted to leave.
"Since she resigned membership in 2018, Ms. Trees has given no consent to have her employer deduct union dues from her wages for the benefit of SEIU 503," the complaint states. "SEIU 503 intentionally used electronic communications and/or United States mail to falsely and fraudulently inform DAS [Oregon Department of Administrative Services] that Ms. Trees has authorized deduction of dues past July of 2018, despite their knowledge that Ms. Trees had withdrawn her authorization."
The suit comes as the SEIU stands to benefit from President Joe Biden's infrastructure package, which proposes spending $400 billion on in-home health care through the Medicaid program. The package also includes the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a pro-union bill that would roll back right-to-work laws active in 27 states that allow workers to opt out of union dues. The SEIU boasts nearly 2 million members nationwide and is a prolific financial supporter of Democratic politicians.
Trees's lawsuit says that she joined the union in 2009 and signed a membership card that authorized the withholding of her membership dues. After the Janus decision in June 2018, Trees made the decision to leave the union. The union did not process her request to leave until December 2020 and informed Trees that she still owed the union the dues collected in the meantime because she signed a membership card in 2016. Trees denied ever having signed a card and accused the union of forging her signature.
Additionally, Trees's attorney, Rebekah Millard of the Freedom Foundation, said that the Supreme Court's recent rulings in favor of free speech, such as in the Janus decision, suggest that union power over workers could be curtailed in the courts. But she said that unions continue to exercise political influence and have a receptive audience in the White House.
"It's a difficult political environment," she said. "Unions have a lot of political influence, even among these nonpolitical courts. We have an uphill battle in the lower courts, but once it gets up to the appellate courts or the United States Supreme Court, it starts to become a little more clear that this is a First Amendment issue. This is an issue that implicates people's rights."
The Supreme Court struck a significant blow to public sector unions with its decision in Janus where it held that public sector unions could not collect union dues from non-members. Since that decision, anti-union groups have been pushing the High Court to hear cases involving mandatory dues deductions that help fund union activities. One such case, Belgau v. Inslee, could limit the abilities of public sector unions to withhold dues without explicit consent from employees.
SEIU 503 did not respond to a request to comment on the lawsuit or the accusation that its officials forged Trees's signature.
The Biden administration has repeatedly signaled its support for organized labor, going as far as calling for Congress to pass the PRO Act as part of its infrastructure package. The passage of the act would require the elimination of the congressional filibuster.