The Oregon worker whose husband endured a brutal smear campaign from her own union will receive thousands of dollars for her back dues.
Service Employees International Union Local 503, SEIU's Oregon state chapter, agreed to pay $3,000 to Debora Nearman to settle a suit aimed at ending automatic paycheck deductions for public employees. Nearman, a systems analyst at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, filed suit shortly after Local 503 spent $53,260 to campaign against her husband, Republican state representative Mike Nearman. The union attacks included a flier insinuating that Rep. Nearman discriminated against people with disabilities, despite the fact that the Nearmans have a disabled daughter.
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"I am very pleased with the result of my case," Nearman said. "This will help others gain the confidence to withdraw from unions they disagree with."
SEIU Local 503 did not respond to request for comment.
Under the terms of the settlement, SEIU will be required to reimburse Nearman $2,959.81. Nearman was a long-term agency fee payer, a system by which workers can pay for representation, such as collective bargaining negotiation and representation in grievance proceedings, without funding political activities. Nearman alleged in her suit that the union blurred the line between its political and representational spending. In 2017 the union refunded her only $270 for political activities out of the $1,250 the union deducted from her paychecks. The settlement bars the union from continuing to take any money out of her paycheck.
"SEIU 503 agrees that it will neither seek to collect nor accept any future dues or fees deducted from the Plaintiff's wages unless she affirmatively chooses to become a member of SEIU 503 and authorize deductions," the settlement says.
The settlement came as public-sector unions face dozens of suits from members seeking to recover payments they made to unions under compulsory dues and fees schemes. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that government agencies could not require workers to pay unions membership fees as a condition of employment. Nearman's attorney Jill Gibson said she hopes the settlement will set a standard for employees looking to recoup back wages.
"I am very pleased this is the first post-Janus return of compulsory dues," she said. "I hope this sends the message that unions are supposed to benefit employees, not the other way around."
Labor watchdogs welcomed the settlement. The National Right to Work Foundation, which successfully argued Janus and represented other public-sector workers trying to recover dues, called the Nearman settlement a victory for all workers.
"This is a great example for the countless public-sector workers across the country who seek to have their First Amendment rights respected in light of the Foundation’s Janus Supreme Court victory," foundation president Mark Mix said in a statement. "Nearman's refund represents the first of what should ultimately be hundreds of millions of dollars or even more returned to public employees for union fees seized from them in violation of the First Amendment."
SEIU will pay the settlement within 15 days.