(PORTLAND, Ore.) — On March 8, U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman granted a temporary restraining order preventing Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services from continuing to deduct dues on behalf of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from a state employee who never authorized the deduction in the first place.
When Victoria Bright began working for the state of Oregon in November 2022, she made a point of declining membership in SEIU, because she took exception to its political agenda and bargaining tactics.
Bright had been a dues-paying member of SEIU from 2013 until 2022, while she was working for the Oregon State Hospital. She then left state employment entirely, before coming back to a new position with Department of Human Services where she intentionally declined union membership.
Regardless, when she got her first paycheck the state had indeed deducted union dues.
Bright had contacted SEIU on numerous occasions, and each time the union has agreed the dues deductions are improper and promised to issue a full refund.
But the money kept disappearing.
That is when Bright contacted the Freedom Foundation, a national union watchdog group.
Mosman wrote, “(The) defendants’ deduction of union dues from (the) plaintiff’s wages without her authorization in light of the fact that plaintiff did not join the union because she disagrees with the union’s positions on representation of members on specific work-related matters violates her First Amendment rights.”
The ruling continued, “Because Plaintiff will lose not only her First Amendment rights but also a portion of her wages if the state is not enjoined, the balance of equities tips in Plaintiff’s favor. It is also in the public interest for First Amendment rights to be vindicated.”
“This is a perfect example of why the state shouldn’t be in the dues-collection business,” said Jason Dudash, Northwest Director of the Freedom Foundation, which is providing Bright with free legal representation. “It doesn’t matter whether the state is acting out of incompetence or fealty to the union. What matters is that it wouldn’t happen at all if the union was taking responsibility for its own accounting procedures, like every other independent service provider.”
In its 2018 Janus v. AFSCME ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that mandatory union membership and dues/fees are a violation of free speech and association rights for government employees.
Bright is seeking a declaratory judgment preventing dues deductions from her paycheck or that of any other state employee without proper authorization. Bright is also seeking injunctive relief.
The State of Oregon has been immediately enjoined from deducting any further union dues from Ms. Bright’s wages. A hearing for preliminary injunction is scheduled for Tuesday.
“The state clearly does not have the necessary safeguards and procedures in place to ensure this won’t happen — and isn’t already happening — to other public employees who simply haven’t noticed it yet,” said Rebekah Millard, litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation.
“This is what happens when the government partners with a private entity, like SEIU, and both parties begin to conclude the money they’re confiscating belongs to them rather than the person who earned it.”