Not only does the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) believe it’s OK to forge an employee’s signature on a membership form so it could continue collecting dues despite her stated desire to leave, but now it’s insisting the victim be punished for complaining about it.
Staci Trees, an employee of Oregon Department of Transportation, resigned her union membership in December 2020, only to learn that SEIU intended to keep deducting regular dues from paychecks, claiming she had signed a membership agreement authorizing it to do so.
When she asked to see the document, however, it was so obviously a forgery that even SEIU couldn’t defend its authenticity.
Furious, Trees brought suit in Federal Court against SEIU and the state of Oregon for what amounts to state-facilitated forgery. In addition to First and 14th Amendment claims, the lawsuit included claims for violation state and federal Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes.
Trees is the fifth public-sector employee in Oregon alone the Freedom Foundation has represented in a forgery case against SEIU for unauthorized dues deductions.
Unfazed, SEIU responded to this lawsuit by suing Trees at the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB), alleging she committed an unfair labor practice (ULP) for filing a lawsuit in which she alleged the invalidity of a membership card.
At a July 8 hearing, SEIU attorneys asked the ERB to rule that any claim of invalidity regarding an authorization for deduction of union dues must be filed at the ERB, to the exclusion of any other court, and that Trees’ filing a federal lawsuit is itself a ULP.
“SEIU is blatantly attempting to intimidate employees who seek to enforce their rights in federal court,” noted Rebekah Millard, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation, which is representing Trees. “The claims are a last-ditch effort to avoid having SEIU’s criminal behavior adjudicated in federal court, where there are vigorous discovery mechanisms and the right to trial by jury.”
The unprecedented question of whether Oregon can force public employees to air all disputes over the validity of dues authorizations before one state agency, to the exclusion of federal courts, will now be decided by the ERB — all of whose members have been appointed by Democrat Gov. Kate Brown.
Although recused from Trees’ case, the newest member of the ERB was formerly the in-house counsel for SEIU and, in fact, filed the ULP against Trees.
“This case is a textbook example of why we need federal courts,” Millard said. “It’s far too easy for any government to rubber stamp its own conduct to the violation of individuals’ civil rights.”
She continued, “The Supreme Court has firmly rejected the idea that the state can restrict an individual’s access to federal court in the context of civil rights claims, but the ERB appears poised to perpetuate that injustice for public employees in Oregon.
“Freedom Foundation,” Millard said, “is prepared to represent Ms. Trees in every court, or board, or tribunal necessary to preserve her rights and validate her claim.”