(Eugene, Ore.) — The Freedom Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on June 22nd on behalf of four Oregon corrections officers alleging their union:
- 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.
When members of the Association of Oregon Corrections Employees (AOCE) inform the union of their decision to opt out of membership and dues, they’re told the request will only be processed when submitted on a union-provided form.
Not surprisingly, however, the form includes language acknowledging AOCE’s right to charge nonmembers for representation services, including contract negotiation, grievances, investigations, disciplinary hearings, overtime disputes and reclassifications.
The provision is a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution and Oregon statute.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that state, county and local government employees cannot be compelled to join or pay dues or fees to a labor union as a condition of employment. But that doesn’t mean employees who opt out can be denied service.
In return for being recognizing a particular union as the sole agent for a given employer, under Oregon law the union must provide “fair representation” to every employee — even nonmembers — in that bargaining union
“Every public employee has a protected right to choose whether or not to be a union member,” said Freedom Foundation attorney Rebekah Millard. “The union cannot make the exercise of this right dependent on giving up the right to fair representation.”
AOCE told the plaintiffs the “membership cancelation forms” are required and permitted under the Janus decision — although union leaders were unable to cite any provision of law or the union’s governing documents to support their claims.
Adding insult to injury, AOCE told two of the plaintiffs that if they ever sought to rejoin the union, they would be required to pay a $500 sign-up fee on top of dues.
“This fee is so high as to be punitive,” Millard said. “Since the union does not charge this fee to new members, it’s intended to punish those who exercise their First Amendment right to disassociate from the union.”
These bullying tactics are troubling when one considers that AOCE is the exclusive representative for these employees’ bargaining unit — meaning it controls negotiations over contract details, makes decisions on whether to bring grievances or arbitration actions and handles other matters related to collective bargaining.
Employees don’t have the option to negotiate their own working conditions independent of the union.
The lawsuit seeks to end AOCE’s discriminatory tactics and permit employees who want to leave their union to exercise rights enshrined in the First Amendment, affirmed by the Supreme Court and codified in Oregon state law.