On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that should have allowed public employees like Mike Stone to sever ties with the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and still keep his job as a support enforcement officer with the Washington State Division of Child Support.
But they’re discovering that, in the bareknuckle world of government employee unions, having the law on your side is one thing; forcing your tormenters to comply with it is another matter entirely.
Stone has long been at odds with WFSE over how it spent the hundreds of dollars in dues money the state deducted from his paycheck every year on the union’s behalf. Rather than wasting its resources advancing a political agenda, he wanted the union to devote its energies to wages, benefits and workplace grievances. But for many years public employees’ only choices were to:
- stop paying dues — which would almost certainly result in a firing;
- opt out of full membership, but still pay a so-called “agency fee” — determined by the union to cover collective bargaining costs but ostensibly not political activities; or,
- shut up and just go along.
Janus, however, gave them a fourth option. On June 27, 2018, the court ruled that mandatory union dues and agency fees are a violation of a public employee’s First Amendment rights of free speech and association.
Further, the majority opinion specifically prohibits dues deductions until the union obtains the employee’s affirmative consent and informs them that agreeing to pay dues constitutes a waiver of their First Amendment rights. It is this element of the decision that union bosses are fighting most vigorously.
Stone informed WFSE shortly after the Janus ruling was issued he wanted no further dues or fees deducted from his wages, but the union denied his request, claiming the terms of a revised membership card he signed prior to the decision limited his ability to opt out to a few days each year.
Stone then turned to the Freedom Foundation for legal assistance and, on Aug. 23, 2018, he and six other Washington state employees filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against WFSE, Gov. Jay Inslee and the heads of the state agencies for whom the employees work, demanding the unions recognize their rights under Janus to opt out and refund all illegally confiscated dues with interest.
The lawsuit contends that a membership agreement in effect when the Janus ruling was issued — or executed since — is invalid unless the union can prove the worker affirmatively and knowingly waived their right not to pay.
The case is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and may yet find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will likely take a dim view of unions ignoring its handiwork.
If that happens, the case has the potential to enforce what the justices intended in Janus — limiting union participation to only those who don’t require coercion to join.
But this is just one of many instances of public employees having to fight to stop dues deductions from their paychecks. Elsewhere:
- a group of teachers in Oregon and California are taking on their respective statewide teacher unions;
- two plumbers at California State University-San Bernardino are challenging the Teamsters’ misleading, coercive tactics that denied them their right to affirmative consent; and,
- a homecare provider in Washington recently won a $15,000 refund settlement in illegally confiscated dues after an SEIU representative forged her signature on a membership form, while another homecare provider in California recently filed suit against the United Domestic Workers of America for return of funds after her signature was forged and dues taken from her paycheck, as well.
These are just a few of the 55 cases the Freedom Foundation is currently litigating on behalf of people trying to leave their government unions — a number that puts the lie to union claims that Janus had little impact on their membership numbers and that workers are joining up and paying dues in record numbers.
If that were true, why are the unions paying millions of dollars a year to suppress the truth and bully members who might consider straying from the fold?
In the meantime, the Freedom Foundation has already helped more than 50,000 government employees in Washington, Oregon and California opt out of union dues and fees, and there are almost certainly many more eager to follow their lead once the union-erected wall of obstruction and obfuscation has been toppled once and for all.
Jeff Rhodes is managing editor of the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based free-market public policy organization.