(EUGENE, Ore.) — A group of Oregon corrections officers have filed a lawsuit against their former labor union, alleging it:
- impeded their lawful efforts to opt out of membership and dues; and,
- wants to charge them for representation services it is still legally required to provide even though they are no longer paid union members.
The workers have all filed requests within the past year with the Association of Oregon Corrections Employees (AOCE) to drop their membership in the union and end their dues deductions. But the exit process required multiple requests, resulting in additional months of confiscated dues for one of the plaintiffs.
Moreover, AOCE also informed the workers they could only opt out using a specific, union-created form.
The original membership application signed by the workers only required them to opt out “in writing.” The union’s form includes language allowing AOCE to charge the worker:
“…a fee for all representation … request(ed) in matters including, but not limited to, grievances, investigations, disciplinary hearings, overtime disputes and reclassifications
Unfortunately for AOCE, as much as its leaders may wish to deny service to defectors, Oregon state law requires unions to offer “fair representation” to every member of the bargaining unit — even nonmembers — in return for being designated as the workplace’s exclusive provider of union services.
“Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME everyone had to pay the union something,” explainsRebekah Millard, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the corrections officers. The rules changed in 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME affirmed that mandatory union membership, dues and fees in the public sector are a violation of the workers’ First Amendment rights.
Consequently, hundreds of thousands of government employees throughout the country have already opted out, and unions are desperately seeking ways to create new revenue, including reneging on old deals.
“With so many workers opting out of membership and dues these days, the obligation to provide equal representation finally means something,” Millard said. “And the unions are once again proving their word means nothing.”
In addition to charging for services it is required to provide for free, an AOCE official told several plaintiffs it would charge a $500 re-application fee if they changed their mind and, at some future date, asked to rejoin the union.
“Also illegal,” Millard said. “$500 is a lot of money—when it is a fee no one else is being forced to pay, it is no more than a punishment for exercising workers’ protected constitutional rights.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, also names Oregon Department of Administrative Services Director Katy Corba as a defendant and seeks the refund of any improperly deducted dues, an award of damages from AOCE and declaratory and injunctive relief.