Suit Argues Union Contracts Are Invalid If Members Weren’t Advised of Their Rights

By Freedom Foundation —

The Oregon Education Association (OEA) is the subject of a new lawsuit challenging whether teachers seeking to opt out of their union must be accommodated immediately or whether they can be delayed by arbitrary provisions inserted into membership contracts that may be invalid in the first place.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Federal District Court in Medford, also names Portland Public Schools and Eagle Point District 9 as defendants and alleges three educators represented by the statewide teachers’ union sought to leave it in the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that eliminated mandatory dues and/or agency fees for public employees.

The union, however, denied their request, arguing the “individual contact sheet” signed by the plaintiffs makes membership irrevocable until September of each year.

Attorneys for the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit free-market policy organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the teachers, argue the membership agreements are invalid because they violate provisions of the Janus ruling.

Specifically, Janus makes clear that workers have a Constitutional right to decline union participation and still keep their jobs.

“Choosing to join the union and pay dues in the wake of the Janus ruling may be a waiver of the right not to,” said Freedom Foundation attorney Rebekah Millard. “But unions can’t simply assume the worker knows this. For a membership agreement to be legal, the union must prove he or she affirmatively and knowingly agreed to waive their First Amendment rights.”

This case is similar to several other cases handled by the Freedom Foundation in Oregon, Washington and California challenging “revocation windows” contained in the fine print of union membership cards, but OEA’s practices are unique in that they force employees to remain members until September of each year.

Millard explained, “Labor unions cannot unilaterally wipe out public employees’ Constitutional rights during the other 11 months of the year.”

This case has enormous implications for public-sector unions because there are literally millions of government employees across the country being told they cannot opt out immediately because their membership contracts are still in force.

A decision in favor of the Oregon plaintiffs has the potential to devastate the unions virtually overnight by freeing every public employee from union dues except the relatively few who have signed, or will sign, legally valid waivers.