PORTLAND, Ore. – The Freedom Foundation, working with Portland attorney Jill Gibson, on Monday filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court to help it obtain the names of city employees eligible to vote in a proposed union deauthorization election and hold the city accountable for its refusal to honor the group’s earlier request for the information.
The Freedom Foundation, a Northwest-based research and advocacy organization, sought the names of the workers after being approached by a disgruntled member of Laborers’ Local 483 who wanted to initiate a 90-day deauthorization procedure to remove the union’s power to force him and his coworkers to pay dues.
By law, such an election can be held if 30 percent of the workers sign petitions requesting one. Before they can be asked, however, election organizers must know who they are.
As with all public employees, the names of the workers are a matter of public record. But under pressure from Local 483, the city has resisted compliance with the law – even after being ordered to do so by Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, who told the City of Portland that the Freedom Foundation’s request was perfectly legitimate and must be honored.
Underhill’s order to the city noted that unions have made identical requests for the names of non-union workers in the past, writing, “(W)e cannot in good faith reach a different result simply because it is a union that now objects to the information being released.”
Nonetheless, the City Council voted unanimously last week to authorize its attorneys to file a lawsuit challenging the DA’s order.
The Freedom Foundation filed its own lawsuit on Monday to compel disclosure in accordance with the DA’s order.
“The council and the union claim this is about the workers’ privacy,” said Freedom Foundation Oregon Director Aaron Withe. “But that wasn’t a factor when they’ve disclosed public employee names before. Now, simply because a worker’s 90-day deauthorization campaign depends upon getting these names, they’re fighting to keep them secret as long as possible.”
“This is nothing but a cynical attempt to flout the law by a union that’s terrified its ‘members’ will discover they have the power to free themselves from its death grip,” he said. “The only thing more shameful than the union conspiring to deprive workers of the right to voice their displeasure is the city being bullied into doing the unions’ dirty work for it.”
When the city ultimately loses its case, Withe said, it’s the taxpayers who’ll be stuck with the legal bills and the Freedom Foundation’s attorney fees.
“The Portland City Council’s decision this week to ignore an order from the Multnomah County District Attorney and violate the state’s unequivocal public disclosure laws may score points with the labor union pulling its members strings,” he said. “But in reality, the action only needlessly wastes thousands of taxpayer dollars and abridges the rights of the very workers the council claims to be protecting.”
Even worse, the whole gesture is likely to be rendered moot anyway long before local courts have an opportunity to issue a ruling. This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case that has the potential to ensure right-to-work protection to every public-sector union in America.
By next summer, rather than going through the complicated, contentious process of deauthorizing a union they’re unhappy with, government employees will simply be able to opt out individually.
“The union won’t be able to ignore the workers and provide lousy service when they can suddenly vote with their feet,” Withe said. “In the meantime, the case in Portland just gives the workers – and the taxpayers – one last chance to see what the unions are all about before the tidal wave sweeps in.”