(TACOMA, Wash.) — Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 affirmed that forcing government employees to join or support a labor union is a violation of their First Amendment rights, unions have resorted to schemes of varying sophistication to avoid compliance.
But a federal lawsuit and request for a preliminary injunction filed on April 20 allege three different Washington Teamsters’ locals conspired to deny workers by the crudest of measures — brazen refusal to accept mail.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court in Tacoma by the Freedom Foundation, claims Teamsters Locals 117, 763 and 760 on numerous occasions refused to accept delivery of Registered Mail packages containing a collection of valid membership-cancelation forms from public employees.
The Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based public policy organization specializing in the abuses of government employee unions, publishes a printable form objecting workers can fill out and submit to their union to resign their membership and cancel the deduction of union dues from their paychecks. In cases where more than one employee from the same workplace seeks to leave the union, the Freedom Foundation often bundles the requests in one package and submits them to the union en masse.
But the Teamsters have made a policy of refusing to accept deliveries bearing any return address associated with the Freedom Foundation.
When the packages arrive a different return address, they are routinely accepted — until Teamsters officials start recognizing that address, too.
“The unions are not a public agency, but they’re acting under the color of state law, and they have an obligation to respect the Constitutional rights of their members,” said Eric Stahlfeld, chief litigation counsel for the Freedom Foundation.
The Supreme Court, he said, was unequivocal in its 2018 Janus v. AFSCME ruling.
“Janus recognized that mandatory union participation is compelled speech,” Stahlfeld said. “The justices affirmed the right of public employees to join — or leave — a union at their own discretion. The union bosses can’t just stick their fingers in their ears and pretend that right doesn’t even exist.”
In addition to the Teamsters locals, the suit also names Washington Gov. Jay Inslee as a defendant, noting that the state, acting on behalf of the unions, continued to improperly deduct dues payments from public employees — mostly corrections officers — who clearly wanted to end their association with the Teamsters and followed the rules for doing so to the letter.
Stahlfeld said the combined actions of the unions and the state not only denied the workers their rights but forced the Freedom Foundation to waste time and resources preparing multiple mailings until finally coming up with a package the unions didn’t recognize.
And because the unions acted in concert with one another, Stahlfeld said their refusals constitute a conspiracy to violate federal civil rights.
The Freedom Foundation’s motion for preliminary injunction, he said, is based on the likelihood of prevailing at trial. In addition, it seeks to compel the unions to accept the mail so objecting members are not forced to wait another year if they miss narrow opt-out “windows” arbitrarily established by the unions.
“The unions knew exactly what they were doing,” Stahlfeld said. “This isn’t a random act of incompetence. It’s an orchestrated pattern between multiple locals, all refusing to accept delivery of only the packages they knew would cost them dues money.”