The Freedom Foundation, a public policy organization devoted to exposing and battling the abuses of government employee unions, last week filed appeals in three separate cases in which the presiding judge ruled in favor of unions despite clear evidence they had forged the signatures of workers on membership documents in order to thwart their desire to opt out.
The appeals include two cases in Oregon and one in Washington. The Freedom Foundation has offices in five states and is currently litigating at least a dozen cases involving government employees whose signature was forged on a membership contract that, by rights, should not be binding in the first place.
For generations, union membership and dues — or, alternatively, the payment of so-called “agency fees” — were required in order to work for any branch of the government in states lacking right-to-work protections. That changed in 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in Janus v. AFSCME that mandatory union participation in the public workplace was a form of forced political speech, which violated the employee’s First Amendment rights.
In the wake of Janus, thousands of newly empowered government workers sought to disassociate themselves from their union, only to discover it had adopted rules after the fact limiting opt-outs to a window of only a few days a year. Such rules violated the clear wording on Janus, which emphasized that compulsory unionization has always been unconstitutional.
Consequently, union rules or state laws that limit a worker’s right to decline to support his or her union are unenforceable.
Still, lower court judges have persistently ruled that Janus only affects non-union members rather than workers who signed a membership agreement before the ruling was issued mistakenly believing they had no choice in the matter.
It has become increasingly clear the unions, knowing they would inevitably lose the case, mounted a widespread campaign in the months prior to Janus hoping to persuade as many workers as possible to renew their membership — without bothering to mention how the impending ruling might impact that decision.
Worse yet, when a worker refused to sign, his or her signature was often forged.
“We’ve investigated dozens of cases where a government employee never signed anything, but the union still confiscates dues from their paycheck based on a bogus dues-authorization form,” said Rebekah Millard, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation.
“In what alternate universe,” she asked, “can an American citizen be forced to continue financially supporting an organization whose values and tactics they loathe based on a document they never signed? It boggles the mind.”
The Freedom Foundation appeals include:
- Cash Schiewe v. SEIU 503. The plaintiff, who works for Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services, asked to opt out of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 after Janus, only be told by the union the court ruling meant she now had to join the union. When she later learned the truth, she confronted the union only to be told she had signed an electronic membership form in the meantime. But the form SEIU 503 produced does not contain her signature — and does not contain accurate metadata that would establish a valid electronic signature.
- Wright v. SEIU 503. The plaintiff is a public employee who works for the Oregon Health Authority. SEIU 503 claims she signed an authorization for dues deductions in October 2017 on an iPad — but the employee disagrees, having no recollection of signing up for union membership. When asked for supporting evidence, SEIU 503 could not produce data to confirm the signature, but nonetheless continued to enforce it to take union dues.
- Yates v. WFSE. When Sharrie Yates, a medical assistant with Washington state’s Healthcare Authority (HCA) since 2004, attempted to opt out of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) in October 2018, the union denied her request citing an electronic renewal form she allegedly submitted the previous June. Yates can prove she never submitted an electronic signature, but despite numerous attempts to contact the union, it continues to deduct dues from her paychecks.
“In none of these cases does the lower court judge deny that forgery took place,” Millard said. “But in every case, they managed to find a reason why it didn’t matter.”
For example, the judges focused on the fact that the state, which collects member dues on behalf of the union, didn’t know the signatures were forged. Meanwhile, the union — because its act of forgery is a crime— isn’t considered a “state actor.”
“According to judges, neither the state nor the union can be held responsible for violating these employees’ First Amendment rights,” Millard said. “And yet these workers have had thousands of dollars stolen from them. At what point is someone going to be held accountable?”