Freedom Foundation

The “Opt-Out Window”: Unions’ Scheme to Collect More Dues

Taking a page from the playbook of the state’s larger public employee unions, Hillsboro Classified United, Local 4671 (HCU), in Hillsboro, Ore., is denying its bus drivers’ constitutionally protected requests for freedom.

An affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, HCU told one member she couldn’t stop paying dues for 17 months after the union received her request. HCU bases this policy on the fine print jargon in its membership applications, where the following sentence is wedged between other text:

…irrevocable, regardless of whether I am or remain a member of the Union, for a period of one year from the date of authorization and shall automatically renew from year to year unless I revoke this authorization by sending written notice to the Union between June 1 and June 31…

 In plain English, this means once a worker signs a membership card, he or she cannot cancel until 12 months later — and you can only cancel in the month of June.

Thus, if you sign a card in July, you cannot cancel payments until June two years later. Not to mention, union membership applications are not accompanied by a thorough explanation of the terms of the agreement. Typically, union membership applications are sandwiched between piles of new-hire paperwork or thrust at a busy employee during the work day.

Unfortunately, this opt-out window restriction is all too common. Thousands of public employees up and down the West Coast are forced to pay union dues over their objection.

SEIU 503 in Oregon has a variable opt-out window, between 45 days and 15 days before the anniversary of the date a member signed a card, that’s impossible to determine because SEIU 503 does not provide members with a copy of the card.

UDW in California also has a variable window, but it is only 10 days long, and UDW requires members to resubmit their letter during that window. To successfully opt out, UDW-represented caregivers must mark their calendars for a 10-day window several months to a year in advance – that is, if they were even able to understand the mile-long explanation letter from UDW.

The fine print on union membership cards only appeared in the past few years, likely because the unions anticipated a Janus-like decision. Shortly before Janus came down, the unions had “recommitment” drives where they pushed these new membership applications so that everyone would be bound by the window requirements.

The recommitment drives were often under the guise of a “contact information update” or some other disguise. Members had no idea they were agreeing to a stricter (or nearly impossible) opt-out procedure.

The Freedom Foundation has filed federal lawsuits against several West Coast unions, challenging the validity of the membership cards because members were not told they were waiving their First Amendment right to opt out of union membership. If the court invalidates these membership cards, thousands of public employees will be free from the opt-out window restriction.

Unions point to a number of reasons that they must hold to the opt-out window restriction and continue to deduct dues, but none of them stand ground. “It’s a binding contract and we can’t cancel it,” the union stammers, yet it simultaneously cancels all insurance coverage tied to union membership.

Ease of processing for the union is certainly not the reason, either, because most unions have variable windows that pop up all throughout the year.

No matter how you slice it, opt-out windows are just another ploy by unions to collect as much dues money as possible from those they supposedly advocate for.

The Freedom Foundation will continue to fight for the Hillsboro bus drivers and others who are subject to opt-out window schemes.