Four Oregon public school employees sue union over resignation restrictions

On Dec. 5, four Oregon public school employees filed suit in U.S. District Court alleging that their union has unconstitutionally denied their resignation requests, continuing to collect dues against their wishes.

Who are the parties to the suit? Plaintiffs Dori Yates, Claudia Strickland, Tonya Sevilla, and Linda Newton work for Hillsboro United School District. They are being represented by attorneys from the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose self-described aim is “to reverse the stranglehold government unions have on our state and local policymaking.”

The defendants are the American Federation of Teachers, the Oregon state chapter of the AFT, AFT Local 4671, and the school district. According to a report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Oregon state chapter of the AFT had 9,085 full dues-paying members as of Sept. 28, 2018.

What is at issue? The union’s membership agreement states that members may only revoke their dues deduction authorization during a 30-day period in June each year. The membership agreement also states that members must pay dues for a minimum of one year before resigning. The plaintiffs allege these provisions constitute compelled speech and association, a violation of the First Amendment and the precedent established last year in Janus v. AFSCME.

In Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court ruled that unions cannot require non-member employees to pay agency fees covering the costs of non-political union activities. This overturned a precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that non-members could be required to pay fees to a union if those fees were not used for political purposes.

What are the reactions? In a press release, Rebekah Millard, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “The issue is the union isn’t even following the terms of their own cards, which are contradictory. Instead of letting members out either a year after they signed a membership card or every June, they’re saying both rules apply and keeping people in for the maximum amount of time, which can be months longer than would be the case if they applied just one ‘window.’”

As of Dec. 15, neither union representatives nor school officials have publicly commented on the lawsuit.

Case information: The case name and number are Yates v. American Federation of Teachers, 3:19-cv-01975-SB. The case has been assigned to Judge Stacie Beckerman, a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.