Suit: Oregon Unions Restrict Resignation

Workers' class action suit seeks to end withdrawal limits

Members of the SEIU hold a rally
Members of the SEIU hold a rally / Getty Images
November 25, 2018

Oregon workers are asking a federal court to do away with policies that limit their ability to cut financial ties with labor unions.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that government agencies could no longer force their employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Workers in Oregon, however, say that union contracts and policies have limited their ability to exercise those rights. The suit says that Service Employees International Union Local 503 and AFSCME Council 75 have created artificial barriers for workers by giving them limited time windows at which to submit their resignations.

"Defendants' actions and dues deduction revocation restrictions violate the employees' exercise of their First Amendment right not to pay moneys to a union without their affirmative consent and knowing waiver of First Amendment rights," the suit says.

Neither Local 503 nor Council 75 returned requests seeking comment.

The suit says the union purposefully designed contracts with government agencies to delay the ability of workers to resign their membership. While the Supreme Court's decision declared that mandatory union payments violated the First Amendment rights of workers, dissenting workers who attempt to exercise those rights may have to wait until 2019 before getting the opportunity. When one Wallowa County worker issued her resignation, Local 503 struck her name from the membership rolls, but insisted it would continue to deduct fees from her paychecks until May 2019.

"We are in receipt of your letter requesting to resign your membership with SEIU Local 503," the union said in a letter featured in the suit. "Dues deductions cannot be terminated except in the periods set forth in the authorization … At that point, the Union will take appropriate steps to have your dues checkoff cancelled."

Local 503 represents more than 58,000 public sector employees and healthcare workers, according to its 2017 federal labor filing, the most recent available. Nearly 7,100 of those workers were classified as "fair share" members, who pay partial dues designed to exclude political spending. Local 503 collected more than $30 million from all of its members, who surrender more than 1.7 percent of their pay each month.

Council 75 has issued similar letters to workers who attempt to withdraw. It replied to resignation requests by telling workers they were immediately ineligible to vote in union elections or hold office, but would have to wait before terminating payments. The union pointed to a provision in its contract that forces workers to pay fees for one year after cancelling their membership, but said it would only deduct dues for 5 more months as "an act of good faith."

"We have changed your status in our database to non-member dues payer," it told one female prison employee in July. "Members who resign their membership shall continue to pay dues for more than 12 months. Notwithstanding the provision, as an act of good faith, we will ask your employer to terminate your dues on 1/12/2019."

Council 75 represented 26,000 workers, who paid between $15 and $68 per month in dues and fees. It collected more than $11 million from its local chapters on the year. Only 321 of its total members paid partial dues or fees on the year.

The suit was filed by the National Right to Work Foundation, which successfully argued the Janus case before the Supreme Court, and the Freedom Foundation, a non-profit based in Washington state. Foundation President Mark Mix said that such suits are necessary to ensure that unions honor the rights of government workers, rather than use "coercive tactics" to continue paycheck deductions.

"Union officials have a long history of manipulating 'window period' schemes, arbitrary union-enacted limitations trapping workers into forced dues, and other obstacles designed to block individuals from exercising their constitutional rights," Mix said in a statement. "The Foundation's victory in Janus at the Supreme Court provided much-needed protection, but as this case shows union bosses are now defying the Supreme Court to continue their abusive practices."

The suit asks the U.S. District Court in Portland to overturn the withdrawal limitations and restore the dues and fees workers in the class have been forced to pay. It is the latest in a series of class action suits filed across multiple states, including Washington, California, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, that seek to recover back dues for union dissenters or other government workers.

Published under: Unions