Freedom Foundation

Freedom Foundation Files Briefs in Four Union Forgery Cases

(OLYMPIA, WASH.) – In the real world, taking someone else’s money without their permission is theft. And trying to conceal the original offense by forging the victim’s name on a document giving you permission would only compound your guilt.

But in the corrupt and desperate alternate universe of government employee unions, forging the name of an unwitting worker on a membership contract in order to continue confiscating his or her regular dues payments seems to be standard operating procedure.

In court, union lawyers argue that the illegality of forgery means the plaintiffs cannot recover under the constitution.

On May 12, the Freedom Foundation — a national, nonprofit government watchdog group specializing in the unlawful activities of public-sector unions — submitted final reply briefs in four separate lawsuits alleging union forgery.

The cases — three in Oregon and one in California — are not entirely identical, but in each the defense is advancing the argument that neither the union nor the state collecting unauthorized dues on its behalf is violating the Constitution.

In the case of the states, attorneys representing both Oregon and California insist they are merely the collection agent for the unions, which specify whose check is to be garnished and for how much. As for the unions, they argue they can’t be sued because they are not state actors.

Public-sector unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have been on the defensive since U.S. Supreme Court rulings like Harris v. Quinn (2014) and Janus v. AFSCME (2018) recognized the First Amendment rights of public employees to decline union participation.

The unions routinely place roadblocks in the paths of employees asking to end their union membership, and the standard union defense is to argue a signed membership contract supersedes the Constitution. It doesn’t, but in any case, a forged contract requires the union to concoct an even more convoluted defense.

In one of the three Oregon cases, Zielinski v. SEIU 503, union lawyers attempt to use the forgery to escape culpability by asserting, “A private party’s alleged actions that violate state law and are not condoned by any identified state practice have no source in state policy and therefore are not ‘under color of law.’”

“No amount of legal gymnastics can hide that (the) respondents claim they are relieved of liability under the First Amendment, not because of an employee’s voluntary agreement, but because of a union’s fraud,” wrote Freedom Foundation attorney James Abernathy in the California case, Quezambra v. United Domestic Workers of America.

The other two Oregon cases, Cash Schiewe v. SEIU 503 and Wright v. SEIU 503 involve electronic forgeries.  The unions continue to contend the First Amendment doesn’t apply because the unions were not “state actors” and were not operating “under color of state law.”

The union says we are complaining about the forgery, which state law prohibits and cannot be an official state policy (required for state action),” explained Freedom Foundation Senior Litigation Counsel Eric Stahlfeld. “We’re actually complaining about the state of Oregon taking lawfully earned wages from an employee’s paycheck. Only when the union argues that money can be diverted into its hand based on the cards do we say there is no private contract, but a forgery.

“Even if the union forged the signatures, we would not be complaining if the state did not divert the lawfully earned wages to the union,” he said. “The union can forge as many signatures on cards as it wants, but there is no harm until the state takes the money.  Therefore, the wrongful act is the state diverting the money.  The union is on the hook because it is using the CBA and state statute to demand and require the state to divert that money.”

“It beggars belief that we have to counter such weak arguments in civil court at all,” said Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe. “Forgery is a crime, and whoever is responsible for committing or authorizing it should be behind bars. But for obvious reasons prosecutors in overwhelmingly liberal states have little stomach for seeing their union allies in handcuffs, so the Freedom Foundation has to offer protections the workers should really be able to take for granted.”