Freedom Foundation Lawyers File Another Lawsuit Seeking Dues for Defecting Oregon Union Members

It's the second federal lawsuit in Oregon following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says union dues must be voluntary.

Singalong at the Labor Day picnic in Oaks Park. (Justin Katigbak)

Ten public employees filed a class-action lawsuit this week demanding the return of union dues deducted from their paychecks even after they left the ranks of organized labor.

The class-action lawsuit, filed Nov. 20 in U.S. District Court in Portland, is the second filed against Oregon unions by lawyers from the Olympia, Wash.-based Freedom Foundation following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says union dues must be voluntary.

That decision in June, Janus v. AFSCME, ruled that unions cannot deduct dues from nonmember wages unless the employee "affirmatively consents to pay."

In September, lawyers from the Freedom Foundation and the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed suit on behalf of a dozen Oregon public employee union members who want their dues refunded. That suit is ongoing.

This new lawsuit, like the last one, is an attempt to undercut the fundraising and political power of Oregon labor unions, long the strongest bulwark of Democratic Party politics. It names American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75 and Service Employees International Union 503 as defendants, along with seven government agencies.

Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported the new class-action lawsuit this week.

According to the new lawsuit, Anderson et al. v. SEIU et al., unions and government agencies are using the membership cards signed by employees to justify continuing payments.

For example, when one public employee resigned from Oregon AFSCME Council 75, the union accepted the resignation, but denied the request to stop due payments:

"Notwithstanding conflicting provisions in your collective bargaining agreement, as an act of good faith, AFSCME will ask the employer to terminate your dues on 1/11/2019. This date is the open period from the most recent membership card you signed."

Attorneys for the Freedom Foundation say that a membership card signed before the Janus decision cannot count as an affirmative waiver of first amendment rights. Union members couldn't have waived their rights before they were first granted by the U.S. Supreme Court decision, the suit argues.

"Janus thankfully puts the burden of proof on the union to prove a worker actually wants to be a dues-paying member," said Aaron With, Oregon Director of the Freedom Foundation in a statement. "Someone forced to decide between union membership and an illegal penalty like an agency fee cannot 'voluntarily' decide to become a union member, nor can the workers be bullied into waiving rights they don't realize they have because they have not yet been acknowledged by courts."

A spokesperson for Oregon AFSCME Council 75 could not immediately be reached for comment.

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