With free legal assistance from the Freedom Foundation, a Spokane County employee last week filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint with the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) alleging her union illegally threatened to retaliate against her for exercising her right to resign union membership and cancel the deduction of dues from her wages.
Tiffany Osborn, a pretrial services officer, is represented by the Washington State Council of County and City Employees/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 2 (WSCCCE).
Osborn signed a union membership form authorizing the deduction of dues from her wages in the spring of 2018. At that time, Washington state law provided that union-represented public employees could be terminated if they didn’t support the union financially.
However, just a few months after she signed the membership form, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down such state laws as unconstitutional in Janus v. AFSCME, holding that unions and government employers must first obtain voluntary consent from public employees before withholding union dues or fees from their wages.
This summer, disappointed by her union’s lack of representation, Osborn attempted to resign her membership and cancel the deduction of union dues from her wages.
It was at this point that her union informed her it had revised the terms of its membership agreements before Janus. According to the fine print of the updated forms, signers have only a single, 10-day window approximately one year after first signing the card during which they can cancel the deductions.
Accordingly, Osborn reached out to the Freedom Foundation for assistance. When she informed WSCCCE that she was seeking legal help from Freedom Foundation attorneys, the union immediately agreed to stop deducting dues from her wages.
However, instead of honoring her choice and moving on, the union mailed Osborn a letter in late July illegally threatening to retaliate against her for exercising her rights.
The letter expressed the union’s “disappointment” in Osborn’s decision, vowed that her “wages and benefits will suffer” and accused her of “eroding the bargaining power of your group.”
Lastly, the letter included the following warning:
“It should also be noted that the Union may institute charges for non-members who ask for representation under the collective bargaining agreement. It may make more sense to continue your membership.”
WSCCCE’s threats and intimidation, in addition to being contemptible are, thankfully, also illegal under state law.
Ms. Osborn’s right to choose for herself whether to join a union and pay dues is protected by the First Amendment and, due in part to legislation passed after Janus, by Washington state law as well. And Washington law has long recognized it is a ULP for a union to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce public employees in the exercise of their rights…”
WSCCCE’s conduct is made more concerning by the fact that the letter it sent to Tiffany Osborn is a form letter sent to all public employees attempting to stop the union from seizing money from their paychecks.
Osborn’s ULP requests that PERC address WSCCCE’s actions by ordering the union to apologize in writing, cease threatening other employees in a similar manner and distribute a notice to the other public employees the union represents that it committed a ULP by threatening Osborn for exercising her rights and committing to refrain from similar threats in the future.