The state of Oregon and the government unions that too often pull its strings responded to June’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME with all-too-predictable denial and obfuscation.
But if a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court on Tuesday, Nov. 20th by attorneys with the Freedom Foundation, a Northwest-based free-market think tank, and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, is successful, it could put a huge crimp in the unions’ revenue stream and the government’s plan to suppress the rights of public employees.
The lawsuit, Anderson et al. v. SEIU et al., was filed on behalf of 10 public employees who attempted to exercise their rights under Janus to resign from their unions only to be told they could not cease paying union dues due to deceptive language in their membership cards.
The unions believe a signed membership card by itself negates the impact of Janus. But in his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote:
Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.
Further, Alito noted:
By agreeing to pay, nonmembers are waiving their First Amendment rights, and such a waiver cannot be presumed.
These sentences make it crystal clear that a worker must have given his or her permission, via a waiver of rights, before dues can be deducted from their paycheck. But how could they have made this waiver prior to the Janus decision, when those rights were first articulated?
Consequently, a membership card signed pre-Janus cannot be relied upon to deny a public employee the ability to opt out of paying union dues.
Unions and the government must find another way to take money from those who don’t wish to give it.
“This is one of the biggest scandals I’ve ever witnessed from the unions and the government,” said Freedom Foundation’s Oregon Director, Aaron Withe. “The union dues they’ve forcibly deducted from people who want out are meant to be designated to the working families of this state, not some special interest group.”
“Janus,” he explained, “thankfully puts the burden of proof on the union to prove a worker actually wants to be a dues-paying member. For years, unions used illegal agency fees to bully workers into becoming members. Someone forced to decide between union membership and an illegal penalty like an agency fee cannot ‘voluntarily’ decide to become a union member, nor can the workers be bullied into waiving rights they don’t realize they have because they have not yet been acknowledged by courts.”
“The thousands of people that they’re doing this to are entitled to not only get this money back,” he said “but also to the hundreds of dollars that have been taken from them since they decided to opt-out.”
The lawsuit names SEIU Local 503, AFSCME Council 75, as well as various government agencies as defendants.
The suit seeks, among other relief, an injunction that would prevent public employers from continuing to skim money from the paychecks of government employees who couldn’t possibly have knowingly authorized it.
Aaron Withe, Oregon Director AWithe@freedomfoundation.com