Freedom Foundation

Yelm Paraeducator’s Long Battle with Union Ends When Freedom Foundation Steps In

When Michelle Welch took a job at Yelm Community Schools in 2018, she looked forward to helping children learn in the classroom. But little did she know she’d first have to battle a persistent union that demanded she sign away her First Amendment rights.

Ms. Welch began working in September 2018 and enjoyed helping the children she worked with through the first year of her employment. But in May 2019, during a union-hosted meeting, employees were led to believe they had to attend, a representative from Public School Employees 1948 (PSE 1948), a local government union affiliate of Service Employees International Union, solicited her signature on a membership agreement authorizing her employer to deduct union dues from her wages.

Ms. Welch refused to sign several times because she didn’t wish to be bound by the irrevocability provision in the agreement limiting her ability to terminate her membership and stop dues deductions to an arbitrary 15-day window once a year.

Undaunted, the PSE 1948 representative urged Ms. Welch to cross out the offending language in the document.

Ms. Welch finally relented, reluctantly signing the agreement after first crossing out the irrevocability provision and its 15-day resignation window.

A short time later — before any dues were deducted from her wages — a union representative texted Ms. Welch on her personal cell phone and told her PSE 1948 had “lost” her card. He requested she sign an electronic version, but Ms. Welch declined.

Again, refusing to take no for answer, the representative requested Ms. Welch sign a paper version of the agreement that would be mailed to her. Once again, she refused, knowing the electronic and paper versions of the agreement would almost certainly reinstate the irrevocability language.

The typical union intimidation tactics weren’t working this time.

PSE 1948 clearly appeared to be lying to Ms. Welch to get her to sign away her First Amendment free speech rights and, by the union’s third attempt, she’d had enough. Ms. Welch resigned her union membership and objected to any dues being deducted from her wages by her employer.

As if by magic, another PSE 1948 representative soon thereafter informed her the union had miraculously located the original, amended agreement bearing Ms. Welch’s signature. PSE 1948’s seemingly unending attempts to fill its coffers with Ms. Welch’s money would continue. But again, she continued to object, and no dues were deducted from her wages the rest of that school year.

But in October 2019, Ms. Welch learned her employer had been instructed by the union to deduct dues from her paycheck beginning the following week. Ms. Welch was understandably furious and reminded her employer she had resigned her membership and objected to dues deductions multiple times several months earlier.

As is the case with most employers in this situation, the Yelm School District refused to challenge the union, fearing it would file an unfair labor practice complaint. Instead, Ms. Welch was directed to take the matter up with PSE 1948 — which she did. Nonetheless, the union refused to stop deducting dues.

Not just one but both entities claiming to have her best interests at heart were, in fact, conspiring to steal her money, and she was helpless to do anything about it.

Or so it seemed.

Fortunately, Ms. Welch had recently received a mailer from the Freedom Foundation notifying her of her First Amendment right to opt out of her union and offering help to employees like her who were being bullied when they tried.

After PSE 1948 received several letters from a Freedom Foundation attorney threatening to file a lawsuit and expose its apparently fraudulent conduct, PSE 1948 relented, agreed to instruct Ms. Welch’s employer to stop deducting union dues from her wages and paid back every penny unlawfully seized from her wages. With interest.

Naturally, the union will never repay her or apologize to her for the many hours of stress caused by its actions.

There are thousands, perhaps millions, of public employees just like Ms. Welch being strong-armed by their union and disregarded by their employers. Unions thrive on intimidation, both overt and systemic, even in the face of Janus v. AFSCME, the landmark 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case that limited unions’ ability to compel workers to pay dues.

Unions still believe they are entitled to employees’ money; the only question is what underhanded tactics they’ll have to employ to get it.

Without the Freedom Foundation, Ms. Welch might still be in limbo, handing over a portion of her paycheck to a union she wanted no part of for another year at least. Unions count on winning these kinds of battles because workers lack the resources to fight back.

Thanks to the Freedom Foundation, she fought her union on equal terms and won.

And she won’t be the last.