Citing Janus precedent, lawsuit demands three largest Oregon public sector unions refund all mandatory union fees taken from thousands of nonmembers
Salem, Oregon (September 20, 2018) – Today, a group of Oregon public employees filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the state’s three largest public sector unions, a smaller union, and their affiliates. The suit seeks the return of millions of dollars of forced union fees collected in recent years by union officials from thousands of public sector employees who opted out of union membership or never joined to begin with.
The case was filed at the United States District Court for the District of Oregon by twelve public employees with free legal representation from staff attorneys at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Freedom Foundation.
The suit names as defendants the three largest public employee unions in Oregon – Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503; American Federation of State, Local, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 75; and the Oregon Education Association (OEA) – along with the Association of Engineering Employees (AEE) of Oregon and their affiliated unions that received forced fees. The legal action follows the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME in June, which found that forcing public employees to fund a labor union as a condition of government employment violates the First Amendment.
Janus, which was briefed and argued at the Supreme Court by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, ruled that unless public sector workers affirmatively consent to paying union dues or fees and knowingly waive their First Amendment right not to subsidize a labor union, collection violates their constitutional rights.
Before the landmark Janus ruling, government workers in Oregon and more than twenty other states were forced to pay so-called “agency fees” even if they declined to become union members. The Oregon workers’ lawsuit seeks the return of millions of dollars taken by the defendant unions from nonmembers over the last six years, as allowed by the applicable statute of limitations.
In July, National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys secured the first such refund of forced fees under the Janus decision for Oregon state employee Debora Nearman. As part of a settlement, SEIU Local 503 refunded the Department of Fish and Wildlife worker almost $3,000 that had been collected as mandatory union fees in recent years.
“For decades union officials violated workers’ constitutional rights by seizing union fees from them without their consent,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Now, thanks to the Foundation’s Janus victory, workers all across the country are standing up for their rights and demanding back their money that was taken from them in violation of the First Amendment.”
“This lawsuit simply seeks to secure the justice Debora Nearman won for thousands of other workers whose rights Oregon union bosses violated,” Mix added.
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys have filed similar class-action lawsuits seeking the return of illegally seized dues in California, Connecticut, and Illinois, and are receiving more calls every day from workers seeking to exercise their rights under the Janus precedent. To assist public employees in learning about their First Amendment rights under Janus, the Foundation established a special website: MyJanusRights.org.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.