Breaking the law once might be excusable, but breaking the same one a second time is clear evidence of contempt for authority.
So imagine what it says about government employee unions on the West Coast that the Freedom Foundation has identified at least 12 cases where someone in the union forged a worker’s name to authorize the union to deduct dues or political contributions from his or her paycheck.
In fact, the organization on Monday filed federal lawsuits on behalf of five separate public employees in Washington, Oregon and California alleging their union not only created false documents but cited those same documents to justify keeping the workers — and their dues dollars — in the union.
“This isn’t an accounting error or an honest mistake,” said Eric Stahlfeld, the Freedom Foundation’s chief litigation counsel. “This looks like a pattern of criminal behavior. Unions evidently have learned to do business this way because for generations no one ever stood up to them.”
The pendulum began to swing back in the workers’ favor in 2018, he said, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Janus v. AFSCME, ruled that forcing public employees to join or pay dues to a union was a violation of his or her First Amendment rights.
On paper, the decision cleared the way for every government employee in the country to opt out of union participation without penalty. In practice, however, the unions have fought tenaciously — even to the point of forgery — to discourage and prevent defections that could mean millions in lost dues revenue.
The five cases filed on Monday have different nuances, but at their core, the unifying theme is union fraud and hubris. The cases include:
- Semerjyan v. SEIU 2015: The plaintiff has provided homecare since 2003 in Los Angeles County. The union from the very beginning deducted dues from her paycheck. Because the Union never solicited her membership and automatically deducted dues, she reasonably believed the deductions were mandatory until learning otherwise in September 2019. She sent an opt out letter in October and the Union responded via letter saying she signed a membership card and couldn’t leave until March. She quickly called the union who told her she had a membership card on file. When the union sent her the copy, she quickly recognized it was forged. SEIU 2015 has denied the forgery and then compounded the falsehood by claiming her husband may have signed it for her.
- Hubbard v. SEIU The plaintiff is also a homecare provider and works in Sacramento County. She, too, learned in late 2018 she didn’t have to pay dues, and eventually figured out how to submit an opt-out request in January 2019. The union responded saying she couldn’t leave until her opt-out window on her purported membership card signed in November 2018. Despite multiple requests throughout 2019 for a copy of this “membership card” the Union did not provide anything until December 2019. It turns out this “card” is electronic, but the IP address on the union’s electronic form is different than the IP address on the computer which she would have used had she been the person completing the form online.
- Gatdula v. SEIU 775. The plaintiff has been a home-based caregiver in Washington State compensated through Medicaid since 2014. She never signed a union membership card but has, however, paid dues through October 2019. To do so, the union violated plaintiff’s rights in multiple ways using multiple tactics. When she refused to become a union member under pressure after she became a caregiver in early 2014, the union called her again in July 2014 and used deceptive tactics to obtain her verbal ‘consent’ to pay union dues by burying commitment language in legalese and deliberately minimizing the purpose of the call. This tactic was deceitful and blatantly illegal under state law, which required written authorizations for union dues. In 2019, SEIU 775 resorted to false tactics again, to obtain more money from her. They falsified plaintiff’s electronic signature on a union dues card and used this to extract not only dues, but this time political contributions, from her wages.
- Cash Schiewe v. SEIU 503. The plaintiff is an Oregon public employee who lives in Clackamas County and works for the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. For most of her career she chose not to be a union member, instead choosing to pay so-called agency fees. When those fees were abolished under Janus, she contacted SEIU 503 to ask about the status of fee payments. A union representative told her 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 — 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.
“These individual employees are completely unrelated but, taken collectively, they demonstrate a pattern or practice of the union cutting corners in a desperate attempt to retain members,” Stahlfeld said. “When the Supreme Court in Janus affirmed the right of public employees to opt out of union participation, it didn’t mean they could only do so under strict guidelines drawn up by the union. And it certainly didn’t give the unions permission to engage in fraud to regain what Janus took away.
“This is much bigger than criminal acts,” he said. “This is unions tolerating, ignoring and maybe even encouraging a system of incentives or a work environment that results in cheating. The state never verifies that the employees really want their lawfully earned wages diverted into union coffers. This practice is despicable, and it’s up to the legal system to sanction those involved appropriately.”