Lawsuit challenging SEIU ‘Issues Fund’ surcharge heads to 9th Circuit

Lawsuit challenging SEIU ‘Issues Fund’ surcharge heads to 9th Circuit

Lawsuit challenging SEIU ‘Issues Fund’ surcharge heads to 9th Circuit

An Oregon lawsuit being appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals underscores two harsh realities about public-sector unions:

  • Notwithstanding their lofty rhetoric to the contrary, these organizations care nothing for the government employees they claim to represent and serve almost solely as a funding source for liberal political candidates and causes; and,
  • They have no intention of voluntarily complying with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that recognized it is unconstitutional to force public employees to join a union or fund one with their dues or fees.

In Cram et al v. SEIU 503, eight Oregon public employees allege the union honored their lawful request to terminate membership but continued to deduct monthly dues and a $2.75-per-month surcharge imposed without their consent to fund union political activities.

The Freedom Foundation, which is representing the appellants, filed opening briefs with the 9th Circuit in September after a lower court agreed with unions that the workers could be forced to pay the political assessment despite never having independently authorized it or been informed it was for politics.

When the Cram appellants tried to exercise their right to opt out, SEIU 503 agreed to discontinue their membership, thus depriving them of the ability to vote in union elections and enjoy certain union perks.  But because the request wasn’t received during a union-imposed annual opt-out “window,” SEIU 503 claimed it could continue to collect not only dues from their paychecks, but an additional $2.75 deduction labeled only as “Issues Fund” on their pay stub.

The Freedom Foundation is currently litigating around 80 union-related lawsuits, including many challenging shady union tactics, including failure to honor requests to end membership, forgery of dues authorizations and, like this case, union schemes to funnel taxpayer dollars to left-wing political causes.

“The Janus ruling was unambiguous,” said Freedom Foundation attorney Rebekah Millard. “It clearly said that public-sector unions are, by definition, in the business of politics, and forcing government employees to participate in — or fund — union activities amounts to compelled political speech.”

But SEIU 503’s special assessment is even worse than compelled dues, as employees never independently authorized the additional deduction, nor were they informed it went straight to union politicking. A monthly $2.75 surcharge may not seem like much but, multiplied by 40,000 members, it adds up to $110,000 per month, or $1.3 million a year.

“SEIU 503 siphons millions of dollars from public employees’ wages through political charges administered by public employers to fund SEIU’s political war chest,” Millard said. “Public employers even exact this political charge from nonmember employees over their objection. It’s time for public employers and unions to stop ignoring Janus and to start respecting public employees’ First Amendment rights.”

If the appellants prevail, SEIU 503 could be forced to return several years’ worth of the “SEIU Issues” assessments deducted from the employees’ wages and, going forward, secure specific authorization from employees before initiating the extra deduction.

Vice President for News and Information
Jeff is a native of West Virginia and a graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in journalism. He served in the U.S. Army at Fort Lewis, Wash., as a broadcast journalist and has worked at a number of newspapers in West Virginia and Washington. Most recently, he spent 11 years as editor of the Port Orchard (Wash.) Independent, which earned the 2011 Washington Newspaper Publishers’ Association’s General Excellence Award as the top community newspaper in Washington. Previously, he was editor of the Business Examiner newspaper in Tacoma, Wash., for seven years. Jeff lives in Lacey; he and his wife have grown twin daughters.