(SALEM, Ore.) — A fourth Oregon public employee in less than a year has appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals a lawsuit alleging her signature was forged onto a union membership card so dues could be deducted from her paycheck without authorization.
All four cases were filed by the Freedom Foundation, a national nonprofit and government watchdog group that focuses on public-sector union activities.
The newest plaintiff is a care coordinator from Marion County represented by a local affiliate of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 503.
According to the suit, she first started working for the county in 2017 and, although she wanted nothing to do with the union and never signed a membership agreement, dues were nonetheless deducted from her wages because, in Oregon, mandatory union participation was a condition of employment in the public sector.
In March 2018, she was contacted at home by a pair of SEIU operatives who pressured her to sign a membership agreement, but she continued to decline.
Unbeknownst to her, the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to issue a ruling three months later in Janus v. AFSCME affirming that forcing public employees to support a union with dues or fees is a violation of their First Amendment rights. The union, correctly anticipating the decision would go against it, was desperately trying to get as many unsigned “members” as possible to authorize continued dues deductions.
In 2020, the Marion County care coordinator tried to opt out of the union but was told her request could only be processed during a two-week window every year because she had signed a membership card.
Knowing she hadn’t, she demanded to see the card and immediately recognized it was a crude forgery.
The union agreed to cease her dues deductions but never explained how her signature was forged onto its membership agreement or offered to refund the illegally confiscated dues.
Lower court judges have rejected the lawsuit against Marion County and SEIU because the county merely collected the dues on the union’s behalf, and SEIU isn’t a state actor.
“At some point, someone has to take responsibility for the fact that an individual had hundreds of dollars pilfered from her paycheck,” said Rebekah Millard, litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation. “The state shouldn’t have relied solely on the assurances of SEIU, which has a financial stake in this matter, and the union benefited — and continues to benefit — from money it had no right to confiscate in the first place.”
“Unfortunately, this isn’t just isolated event,” said Freedom Foundation National Director Aaron Withe. “Once, or maybe twice, and you could chalk it up to incompetence. But four times in less than a year tells me these unions have made a conscious decision they’re not going to comply with Janus, and they’re going to continue to confiscate dues money from as many workers as possible, by whatever means, until someone puts a stop to it.”