Oregon Civil Servant Wins First Refund of Forced-Fees under Janus Precedent as SEIU Returns Two Years of Fees
Eugene, OR (July 30, 2018) – A federal First Amendment lawsuit brought by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys and the Gibson Law Firm for Oregon public employee Debora Nearman against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 has ended with a settlement agreement that will return nearly $3,000 in forced dues to Nearman. The refund represents the first return of forced fees as a result of the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision, which held that the First Amendment prohibits mandatory union fees.
Nearman, an employee at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, filed the lawsuit in April challenging the constitutionality of mandatory union fees as a condition of government employment. After the Janus decision was issued, the writing was on the wall for SEIU officials, who quickly moved to settle the case and return more than two years of forced fees to Nearman.
In her complaint, Nearman objected to being required to financially support and associate with SEIU Local 503 because the organization actively opposes her personal views, including her religious beliefs and her husband’s public service.
In the 2016 general election, Nearman’s husband, Mike Nearman, successfully ran for State Representative in the Oregon Legislature. During the campaign, the SEIU local union that she was forced to fund spent over $53,000 to run an aggressive campaign against him, including distributing disparaging fliers. Additionally, the complaint noted that the SEIU hierarchy takes positions on political issues that conflict with Nearman’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Foundation-won Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision in June overturned the erroneous 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public-sector workers could be compelled as a condition of employment to pay union fees for bargaining-related purposes. In Janus, the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to require government workers to pay any union dues and fees as a condition of employment. Additionally, the Court clarified that no union dues or fees can be taken from workers without their affirmative consent and knowing waiver of their First Amendment right not to financially support a labor union.
SEIU officials will return to Nearman over two years of forced fees amounting to nearly $3,000. They also will not collect any dues or fees from Nearman’s future wages unless she affirmatively chooses to become a member of SEIU and authorizes such deductions. In compliance with Janus, SEIU Local 503 and the state of Oregon have also removed their forced fees provision from their collective bargaining agreement.
“This is a great example for the countless public-sector workers across the country who seek to have their First Amendment rights respected in light of the Foundation’s Janus Supreme Court victory,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Nearman’s refund represents the first of what should ultimately be hundreds of millions of dollars or even more returned to public employees for union fees seized from them in violation of the First Amendment.”
The Foundation has created a special website, MyJanusRights.org, to assist public employees in exercising their rights under Janus, which was successfully argued by National Right to Work Foundation staff attorney William Messenger.
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.