Attorneys for the state of Oregon and its largest government employee union will get two more chances — this time before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — to explain why workers who’ve already expressed their desire to opt out of membership and dues should be forced to continue with both on the basis of a forgery.
The Freedom Foundation, a national public policy organization representing the plaintiffs, has filed suits in close to a dozen cases in Washington, Oregon and California in which a union operative has falsified the signature of a disgruntled public employee on a membership form to prevent them from exercising their Constitutional right to decline union participation.
On Tuesday, the organization appealed a pair of lawsuits from Oregon, marking the second and third cases it has brought to the 9th Circuit.
“Unions are so concerned about anyone breaking free that they’ve adopted a policy of contesting every single opt-out request — even if that means resorting to criminal behavior,” said Rebekah Millard, Freedom Foundation litigation counsel. “But while you expect that sort of thing from unions, it’s outrageous that the courts so far seem to be excusing it.”
The two latest cases to be appealed include:
- Cash Schiewe v. SEIU 503. The plaintiff, who works for Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services, asked to opt out of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public-sector union involvement could not be compelled, only be told by the union 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 in the meantime. 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.
“In neither case does the lower court judge deny that forgery took place,” Millard said. “But in both cases, they managed to find a reason why it didn’t matter.”
For example, the judges focused on the fact that the state, which collects member dues on behalf of the union, didn’t know the signatures were forged. Meanwhile, the union — even though its act of forgery is a crime — isn’t considered a “state actor.”
In states like Washington, Oregon and California that lack right-to-work protections, public employees were required for decades to either join a union and pay monthly dues or opt out of full membership but still pay a so-called “agency fee” for representation services they never asked for.
That changed with Janus, which affirmed that mandatory membership, dues and fees in the government workplace were an infringement on the employee’s First Amendment rights. Fearing a mass exodus of members — and the billions of dues dollars they pay every year — unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Teamsters and various teachers’ unions have embraced a policy of resisting every potential defection by any means necessary — administrative, legal, workplace harassment and, on numerous occasions, criminal acts.
“All our clients did was try to opt out of a labor union they never sought to join in the first place,” Millard said. “In return, the union committed a felony to suppress their First Amendment rights. If it’s the job of the courts to administer justice, it’s time to start looking out for the individuals being victimized in this case, not the big special interest doing the victimizing.”