AFSCME keeping members captive, for now

AFSCME keeping members captive, for now

AFSCME keeping members captive, for now

Over the past two months in Oregon, dozens of employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have chosen to resign their union membership and cease paying for the union’s political causes.

According to our projections, when the Freedom Foundation’s outreach is in full swing, at least two workers will be opting out of AFSCME every day.

Unfortunately – but predictably – that doesn’t mean the union is letting them leave.

In fact, AFSCME is doing whatever it takes to keep those workers paying dues against their will. Specifically, the union’s leaders have responded to each employee’s opt-out request with the same boiler-plate denial letter, which refuses to accept their objection, citing restrictions in the AFSCME membership cards and union contracts.

The trouble is, AFSCME’s restrictions are very likely unlawful.

Currently, public employees who resign their union membership can object to paying for their union’s political causes and other nonrepresentational activity, meaning they can pay a reduced fee instead of full union dues. The option dates back to a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and is reinforced by a subsequent case called Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson (1986).

Like all government unions, AFSCME has established procedures in accordance with Hudson that allow objecting non-members to pay the reduced fee.

If only the union would follow them.

Instead, AFSCME is giving a glimpse of just how low it will stoop after the U.S. Supreme Court decides its latest case, Janus v. AFSCME. If and when the court gives public employees nationwide the right to opt out paying union fees completely, unions like AFSCME are proving they will use any trick in the book to keep their members from leaving.

Case in point, the union’s restrictive membership cards.

Employees who unwittingly sign such cards without reading the fine print are locked into paying full dues – even if they resign their union membership – and are only permitted to opt out during a 10-day window that comes around once a year. The Freedom Foundation’s experience has shown that even when employees manage to successfully navigate these roadblocks, it’s not uncommon for union officials to deny their opt-out requests anyway.

Freedom Foundation is currently litigating against another union, SEIU 503, over exactly such behavior.

Speaking of which, litigation may be necessary to protect the constitutional rights of the many employees who recently objected to paying for AFSCME’s political agenda. Although the union’s membership cards will likely require a fight after Janus, the current reduced fee option for public employees is still governed by the less-restrictive Hudson procedures.

AFSCME knows this, but doesn’t care. The Freedom Foundation, on the other hand, does care about protecting workers’ constitutional rights, and is always willing to take action to ensure that the union’s leaders have no choice but to protect them too.

Policy Analyst
Ben Straka serves as a policy analyst for the Freedom Foundation. His responsibilities include an array of policy research and reform efforts, primarily centered around labor relations, education and government transparency within the states. In addition, he provides support for the Freedom Foundation’s Outreach program and works closely with the rest of the team to hold local governments and public-sector unions accountable to state residents. Ben joined the Freedom Foundation in May 2016. He is a native of Eugene, Ore., and a graduate of Corban University, where he studied political science and business.