Worker Seeks to Cut Ties with Union that Smeared Her Husband

Suit seeks to end automatic paycheck deductions in Oregon

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 2016 International Convention /Getty Images
April 28, 2018

An Oregon state worker has paid thousands of dollars to the union that spent tens of thousands of dollars attacking her husband.

Debora Nearman, a systems analyst at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is suing the state and labor giant Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 to end automatic paycheck deductions for the union. Nearman pays about $120 in agency fees—which are supposed to cover only collective bargaining services, rather than political activity—each month to the union. She paid $1,250 to the union before receiving a $270 refund for political activities in 2017—the year after Local 503 spent $53,260 to campaign against her husband, Republican state representative Mike Nearman.

"I had a firsthand view of how the union impacts the politics of this state," she told the Washington Free Beacon. "I was really shocked by how much money they put in my husband's race and the disgusting nature of the fliers they circulated about him."

The final straw came in the closing months of the race when the union sent out a flier claiming that Rep. Nearman worked to hurt people with disabilities. Debora's adult daughter laughed when she saw the flier. Debora was enraged. She suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a progressive genetic disorder that requires her to wear leg braces and use a cane.

"He's very loving and supportive," she said. "I was just shocked. My heart ached for my husband that he was portrayed that way."

The flier was distributed by the "Real Mike Nearman Committee." The committee was founded by an SEIU official and received nearly 50 percent of its funding from Local 503's PAC. Nearman and her attorney Jill Gibson say the battle against forced dues payments is not just personal. The suit argues that SEIU improperly spent agency fee dollars on political causes and "mixes representation of its employees with political issues." It pointed to the union's support for ballot initiatives to grant drivers licenses to illegal immigrants in 2014, as well as the $5.3 million it spent supporting a failed 2016 measure to hike the state business tax.

"Plaintiff's objecting non-member fee was used to support Measure 97 [the tax increase] because SEIU did not contribute through its PAC; instead, it used 'fair share' dues paid by plaintiff and other objecting members," the suit says. "These positions have no reasonable nexus to wages, benefits, or working conditions."

The Fish and Wildlife Department declined comment, directing the Washington Free Beacon to the union and the Department of Administrative Services, which handles paycheck deductions. Neither SEIU nor DAS responded to requests for comment.

Nearman's suit comes as the Supreme Court weighs Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a challenge to the 1977 Abood case that allowed government agencies to force workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Illinois state worker Mark Janus objected to the payments, arguing that he was being forced to subsidize political speech against his will since government unions make claims upon the taxpayer dollars, which is "inherently political." Nearman makes similar arguments in her suit pointing to SEIU's support for abortion, which violates her conscience as a devout Catholic.

If the Court overrules Abood, government employees like Nearman should gain the ability to opt out of paying agency fees. But Nearman's attorney, Jill Gibson, says there is no guarantee Local 503 quietly accepts such a ruling. She pointed to the union's attempt to maintain forced payments from home health aides even after the Supreme Court ruled a similar scheme unconstitutional in the 2014 Harris v. Quinn case. A separate suit had to be filed in Oregon to put an end to the deductions.

"SEIU has tried to circumvent past Supreme Court rulings.… I expect the same type of behavior this time around after Janus is decided," Gibson said. "We're ready for you this time."

The suit was filed with assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Mark Mix, the nonprofit's president, said that case will help to ensure worker freedom.

"It is wrong that Nearman has been forced by her state government to subsidize an organization that dragged her husband's name through the mud," Mix said in a statement. "Union bosses seize workers' hard-earned money to support issues that violate the workers' consciences, which is contrary to the heart of the First Amendment."

Published under: Oregon , Unions