(PORTLAND, Ore.) — In an encouraging move, a federal district court judge has stepped in with a formal and stern reminder to a state employer that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that public employees cannot be forced to financially support government unions as a condition of employment.
The State of Oregon is already in hot water with employees for errors in payroll processing. Thankfully, one government employee obtained protection for her First Amendment rights in Federal Court yesterday.
On March 14, U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman issued a preliminary injunction forbidding the state of Oregon from deducting union dues from the wages of Victoria Bright. This ruling followed the temporary restraining order issued six days earlier preventing Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services from continuing to deduct dues on behalf of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from Bright, 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 attempted to contact SEIU on numerous occasions to no avail.
That is when Bright contacted the Freedom Foundation, a national union watchdog group who filed a lawsuit on her bahalf.
In issuing the temporary order, Judge Mosman explained, “(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 for the Freedom Foundation, which is providing Bright with free legal representation. “It doesn’t matter whether the agency 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.
“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,” Rebekah Millard, one of the attorneys representing Ms. Bright commented. “In this case, the state’s violation was so obvious even the union didn’t dispute it. But we’re excited about the ruling because it recognizes and reaffirms the rights of public employees to choose union participation or nonparticipation.”