Lawsuit Charges Unions Are ‘Unconstitutionally’ Compelling Workers to Pay Dues

An Oregon home health care provider filed a federal lawsuit against a union she claims is illegally collecting dues from employees in her field.

Maryann Rose has been forced to continue paying dues to Service Employees International Union Local 503 despite multiple attempts to opt out. She argues the union is violating her First Amendment rights by exploiting the law to continue to pocket her cash until her membership renewal period arrives. The union did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation teamed up with the nonprofit Freedom Foundation to represent Rose, charging in the lawsuit that Local 503 is using “unconstitutional” maneuvers to bind home care providers to labor membership. The lawsuit was also filed against  the state of Oregon and state agencies.

Under the 2014 Supreme Court decision Harris v. Quinn, the court decided 5-4 that Illinois had violated the Constitution by mandating home care providers, who the court said do not qualify as public employees despite receiving state Medicaid subsidies, pay union dues.

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work, told The Daily Signal that in the run-up to this case, unions across the U.S. saw that this revenue source would be cut off so they “devised” ways to “lock” workers into memberships.

In Oregon, Local 503 implemented a 15-day window occurring once a year where members can withdraw their membership. If an individual misses that timeframe, Semmens said, he or she has to wait until the following year to opt out and the union will continue to automatically deduct payments out of the worker’s Medicaid and disability checks.

The National Right to Work lawsuit contends that Oregon must comply with the Harris v. Quinn decision and allow home health care workers who receive a state subsidy to cease paying membership dues at any time.

James Sherk, a research fellow in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, said the lawsuit is attempting to cut off “superficial” attempts by unions to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.

“The unions on the surface are complying to the Supreme Court ruling by allowing you to opt out during this two week window, but are making it as hard as possible by putting as many bureaucratic obstacles to that as they possibly can,” he said.

Semmens heeded that unions all over the nation are using similar “tricks” and “deception” tactics, he said, to make it as difficult as possible for individuals to void union membership.

“You see this type of thing where unions try all sorts of things to get around the law and violate workers’ rights and end up with money that they’re not legally entitled to,” he said.

“These are the games they play and it’s why we feel right to work is so important—it makes it 100 percent clear that union dues are voluntary. People who want to pay them can and people who don’t can’t be required to.”

Sherk said that because the makeup of Oregon’s legislature is overwhelmingly liberal the state isn’t likely to pass a right to work law any time soon.

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