Four more Oregon school employees announced on Thursday they were filing a lawsuit against their union for refusing to honor their request to opt out of membership and stop paying dues for services they don’t want.
The plaintiffs, from Hillsboro, are represented by the Freedom Foundation, a west coast-based policy organization currently litigating approximately 10 similar lawsuits in Washington, Oregon and California involving public employee unions trying to thwart the will of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Janus v. AFSCME (2018) that government workers have a constitutional right to decline to pay money to a union without fear of reprisal.
In response, unions — which stand to lose millions in dues revenue if workers continue defecting en masse — are doing everything they can to make the opt-out process as complicated as possible.
In the Hillsboro case, for example, each of the four plaintiffs, with the help of the Freedom Foundation, decided to opt out of Hillsboro Classified United, AFT Local 4671. They subsequently received a letter from the union, claiming the union membership forms they signed prior to the Janus ruling required them to remain a member of the union — and continue paying dues — for a year from the time they became members.
The card also asserts they can only opt out during an arbitrary window in June every year. By applying these contrary terms to its own advantage, the union locks its members into dues deductions — for some employees more than a year from the time they opted out of membership.
“The issue is the union isn’t even following the terms of their own cards, which are contradictory,” said Rebekah Millard, Freedom Foundation litigation counsel.
“Instead of letting members out either a year after they signed a membership card or every June,” she said, “they’re saying both rules apply and keeping people in for the maximum amount of time, which can be months longer than would be the case if they applied just one “window.”
Hillsboro Classified United Local 4671 represents non-certified employees of Hillsboro United School District in Hillsboro, Oregon. Local 4671 is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and AFT-Oregon.
The AFT-Oregon chapter has lost over a third of its membership since June of last year thanks to the Freedom Foundation’s campaign.
The lawsuit is typical of the growing number of cases that challenge unions’ abuse of confusing fine print in their membership cards to force public employees to pay money to the union even after the employees have explicitly resigned membership.
“The wording of the Janus ruling was unambiguous, and so was its meaning,” Millard said. “It’s important for workers to have the right to organize, but the First Amendment rights of those who choose not to are no less important. The union can’t run roughshod over someone’s rights just because it wants to keep confiscating their money.”