Hillsboro school employees sue to leave union on their terms

Education

Legal group Freedom Foundation backs a federal lawsuit that could alter strict rules on quitting unions

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FILE – In this Jan. 7, 2015 file photo, public school buses are parked in Springfield, Ill. The lazy days of summer are ending for millions of children as they grab their backpacks, pencils and notebooks and return to the classroom for a new school year. No more staying up late during the week. Farewell […]

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Four Hillsboro school employees sued their union and school district Thursday, Dec. 5, in federal court, arguing that the union slow-walks requests from employees who want to quit their unions, in violation of their rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The Freedom Foundation, a Northwest organization that urges public employees to quit their unions, is backing the lawsuit. The four workers sued the American Federation of Teachers, the Oregon chapter of the federation, and Hillsboro Classified United, AFT Local 4671, as well as the Hillsboro Unified School District in Portland’s U.S. District Court.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court said in Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that requiring public sector workers to pay dues to a union when they didn’t want to be members is unconstitutional. If the Hillsboro case is successful, it would do more damage to public labor union membership across Oregon.

The Freedom Foundation argues that the unions are violating the employees’ rights under the First Amendment by enforcing the “restrictive language” in the cards union members sign when they sign up for the union, limiting the plaintiffs’ freedoms of speech and association. Plaintiffs claim the process is burdensome and confusing, and can keep workers on the union’s membership rolls much longer than they want to be.

The lawsuit alleges that the American Federation of Teachers Local 4671 requires its members to stay in the union and pay monthly dues for at least a year after joining, and only allows them to resign their membership during the month of June.

Claudia Strickland, a plaintiff in the suit, joined the union in November 2018, the lawsuit claims. Strickland notified the union in July that she wanted to stop being a member. But the union denied her request because she hadn’t been a member for at least a year. Under the union’s rules, she has to keep paying dues until June 2020.

“So first of all, it’s extremely confusing,” said Rebekah Millard, a lawyer for the Freedom Foundation. “Second of all, they’re choosing to enforce it in the most onerous way possible.”

Strickland, and another plaintiff, Linda Newton, who signed up after the Janus decision was issued, weren’t informed of their right to decline joining the union in the first place, Millard said. The other two plaintiffs joined in April 2018, about three months before the Supreme Court’s decision.

Neither the AFT-Oregon nor the AFT Local 4671 could be reached for comment on Thursday.

The Freedom Foundation, which has offices in Ohio, Oregon, California and Washington, is backing similar lawsuits in the west. And there are roughly 30 to 50 similar lawsuits across the country, Millard said.

A spokeswoman for the Hillsboro Unified School District said that the district was not prepared to comment on the lawsuit Dec. 5.

The Freedom Foundation faces criticism from labor groups as a bad faith actor, motivated not by workers’ constitutional rights but by a desire to defund unions, who frequently donate to and share their organizing might with liberal campaigns. The number of state workers choosing to pay dues to their union has declined since the Janus decision, state data show.

Reporter Claire Withycombe: cwithycombe@eomediagroup.com or 971-304-4148.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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