Freedom Foundation

Freedom Foundation: Returning Control of Union Dues to the Workers

Christopher Day, a worker represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 756 (ATU), was so fed up with the union’s antics that he opted out and decided that if he ever joined again, it would be on his own terms.

Like most unions, ATU required that Day authorize his employer to deduct membership dues from his paychecks automatically, off-the-top, before the money ever reached him. By doing so, he would also have agreed to an irrevocability clause.

This “irrevocability” language locks members into a one-year contract, which can only be cancelled during a very short time window. In many cases, workers have only 10 to 15 days to exercise their First Amendment right.

While members can opt out of the union and become a “nonmember” at any time, they are still compelled to pay membership dues for at least the whole year.

At the Freedom Foundation, we believe these irrevocability clauses are nothing more than an unconstitutional ploy to wring as much money as possible from the paychecks of hardworking citizens. And we’re not alone.

Day believes union members are better off when their local is held to a high standard of accountability. By forcing members to pay by automatic deduction from their paychecks under irrevocability clauses, Day believes union officials skate around that standard.

“If the union cared about its members,” Day said, “it would keep up with them individually. By forcing dues to come straight from the employer, the union is separating itself from the members.”

Day determined he wanted to be a member, but only if he could pay dues on his own terms, without an irrevocability clause. Although Day offered to pay dues, ATU ignored his requests for membership unless he agreed to its automatic deduction scheme.

That’s when Day reached out to the Freedom Foundation.

Freedom Foundation attorneys sent a letter on Day’s behalf and convinced ATU to allow Day to become a member — without authorizing the usual automatic, irrevocable dues deductions. Instead, he will pay his dues himself, as long as he wants to be a member.

But no one can force him to keep paying.

While it’s not every day that the Freedom Foundation helps someone become a union member, ATU’s concession represents a battle won in a hard-fought war on automatic paycheck deductions and irrevocability clauses.

In the fallout of Janus v. AFSCME, the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it illegal to force public employees to pay fees to a union, this much is clear:

Government unions will do and say almost anything to line their pockets.

Following the Janus decision, thanks to Freedom Foundation, thousands of public employees left their unions. The mass exodus has forced labor leaders to find some way to staunch the flow of lost revenue.

Unlike for-profit businesses, however, unions can’t be bothered to earn back the money by providing better services.

For nearly two years, Freedom Foundation attorneys in Oregon have defended the rights of hundreds of former union members in a class action lawsuit known as Anderson v. SEIU.

The lawsuit challenges irrevocability clauses, used by both SEIU 503 and AFSCME 75, as unconstitutional limitations on freedom of speech.

Christopher Day’s success at becoming a member without automatic deductions and without the irrevocability language represents a triumph for worker control over the dues deduction process.