Freedom Foundation

Lawsuit demands public employees who opted out of union receive refund of ‘agency fees’

The Freedom Foundation and the Washington, D.C.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation are continuing to apply the precedent in this summer’s Janus ruling to hold public sector unions accountable for millions of dollars’ worth of illegal fee deductions over the years.

On Thursday, attorneys for the two nonprofit organizations filed a class-action lawsuit, Chambers v. AFSCME, in U.S. District Court in Portland against Oregon’s three largest government-employee unions and their affiliates, alleging scores of workers who have successfully opted out of full union participation are entitled to a refund of the so-called “agency fees” they were forced to pay in lieu of monthly dues.

A ruling in favor of the 12 named plaintiffs and class members could cost the named unions — Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 503, the Oregon Education Association and the American Federation of State, Local and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 75 and their affiliates — millions.

“In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court (in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) recognized it was a violation of public employees’ First Amendment rights to force them to join a union and pay dues that were used to fund political positions they didn’t agree with,” explained Aaron Withe, director of the Freedom Foundation’s Oregon operations.

In June, however, the current court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that:

  • public-sector collective bargaining is inherently political;
  • mandatory union fees of any kind violate the First Amendment; and,
  • forced fees represent a “windfall that unions have received” for decades, noting that, “(I)t is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment.”

On that basis, the lawsuit asserts the unions violated the rights of every employee who opted out but was still charged mandatory union fees found to be unconstitutional in Janus.

“The statute of limitations limits the number of years workers can seek and receive back fees,” Withe said. “But they’re entitled to every penny of what they can recover, and we’re aggressively working to make sure they get it.

“It’s bad enough to put the demands of the unions ahead of the rights of the workers,” he said. “But making the workers pay protection money to the same unions that are victimizing them is just wrong. It’s long since time this injustice was exposed and ended.”

Contact: Aaron Withe, Oregon Director