The Freedom Foundation, working in partnership with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, scored a victory this week when SEIU 1199NW issued to a pair of nurses working for Kaiser Permanente in Western Washington a refund with interest of their illegally confiscated dues money and agreed not to treat others with the same disrespect.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, unions in non-right-to-work states like Washington can compel private (but not public) employees to pay dues or fees. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that unions may not force employees to pay for activities unrelated to representing them through contract negotiation and administration. For example, a union cannot force employees to pay for its political contributions and activity.
Employees who don’t wish to pay for union political speech can object to paying full dues, and the union is required to honor their wishes.
Part and parcel with this, unions may not place unreasonable restraints on employees who have objected.
Two nurses working at private medical centers in Western Washington voiced their objections to SEIU 1199NW and were eventually recognized as union objectors. Per the Supreme Court case law, they began paying the reduced-amount “agency fee,” instead of full union dues.
A year after they became objectors, however, one of them noticed the full dues amount was again being deducted from her paychecks.
It turns out SEIU 1199NW required members to re-object to paying the full dues amount, in writing, annually. Of course, SEIU 1199NW only “informed” its nurses of this once, buried in a multi-page, small-print legal mailer.
Anyone failing to re-object would be locked into paying full union dues for the rest of the year.
Furious, the nurses turned to the Freedom Foundation for help. In partnership with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Freedom Foundation filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the union’s illegal charging activities.
SEIU 1199NW quickly realized the game was up — as did the Board. SEIU 1199NW entered into a settlement agreement with the nurses, agreeing to refund the year’s dues to them, and was also forced to post notices throughout the workplace acknowledging its wrongdoing and promising not to do it again.
The notices read:
- WE WILL rescind the requirement that objectors renew their objection on an annual basis; and,
- WE HAVE refunded to objector… her dues and fees that we collected from her, plus interest.