In June, the Supreme Court freed workers from having to pay fees to unions they choose not to join. The Freedom Foundation, a worker advocacy group in Washington State, has freed roughly 25,000 workers from their union stranglehold, and this will make unions bleed for years. The crafty unions, however, had ensnared many workers by altering contracts before the Court ruling, tricking them into stiffer agreements.
“We’ve been sending out direct mail to public employees on the West Coast, sending people door to door. We’ve sent emails, talking people through their options on the phone. We had postcards go out to 180,000 public employees,” Maxford Nelsen, the Freedom Foundation’s director of labor policy, told PJ Media in an interview Tuesday.
Workers had the freedom to leave their unions before the June Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME, but they would still be forced to pay “agency fees,” mandatory payments ostensibly to cover the cost of the union negotiating on their behalf for better wages and benefits. These fees could not legally be used for political purposes, but in practice they were — and there is no way to guarantee they could not be.
“The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from non consenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in Janus. “Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
Some Democrats have declared that this decision involves “weaponizing the First Amendment.” They should tell that to Debora Nearman, a devout Catholic who refused to join her union (which supports pro-abortion candidates). In 2016, she was forced to pay $985.23 to the union — and that union spent $53,260 against her husband, Mike Nearman, in his race for State Representative.
Worse, one of the union’s ads suggested that Mike Nearman didn’t care about disabled people — a horrendous lie, since Debora Nearman herself suffers from a progressive neuro-muscular disease. The ad left her “heartbroken.”
In wake of Janus, the Freedom Foundation alerted public workers that they had the freedom to leave their unions — and never pay another dime.
Tens of thousands of workers have printed out forms to leave their unions, accessible at OptOutToday.com.
The 25,000 comes from three different sources, Nelson explained. The Freedom Foundation counted: those who downloaded “resignation” forms from OptOutToday.com; the 4,000-6,000 caregivers who had their automatic dues dropped after Janus; and payroll data from public employers (union dues are often deducted from the paycheck in the same manner as taxes, so they show up on payroll records).
This number also comes from the nearly 20 percent of workers who left the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE).
Nelsen admitted that summing up these numbers “is probably more art than science,” but he insisted, “We’re very confident that we’re in that right over 25,000 range.”
“Union dues, on average, are going to be in the $800 per year range,” so a loss of this magnitude will bleed unions “about $20 million per year.”
These numbers come almost entirely from California, Oregon, and Washington State — although some workers in other states have also used OptOutToday.com, Nelsen explained.
The $20 million also does not account for the workers who were paying agency fees before Janus, so unions are almost certainly bleeding worse than $20 million — even on the West Coast.
But unions are fighting back, and they’re fighting dirty.
“The most disturbing theme that I’m picking up with folks right now is entirely apolitical,” Nelsen told PJ Media.
“Even before Janus, we started outreach to state employees, to warn them against signing the new membership forms” the Freedom Foundation director explained. “The union was trying to lock as many people into union membership as they could.”
Knowing they might lose the Janus decision, unions sent workers new, more stringent membership forms. “The fine print says you can only opt out ten days per year,” Nelsen paraphrased. “We’re going to keep taking your money unless you opt out during this ten-day period next summer.”
He recalled speaking with “folks who say, ‘Yeah, I signed the form, and the rep said this was necessary to update my information. I was already a member.’ A lot of people weren’t reading the fine print.”
Worse, unions employed various tactics to convince people to sign these new forms. They drove workers to a separate location, and gave them gift cards if they signed the new forms. One worker recalled being lied to — twice — by his union representative. She told him that signing the “irrevocable” contract wasn’t legally binding, but a vague statement of support for the union…
“Now, it’s becoming clear to them why the union wanted them to sign these things three months ago, six months ago. A lot of folks who tend to be union supporters or entirely apolitical are very upset,” Nelsen said.
Unions have used stringent forms with various opt-out windows. “I’ve seen them as short as 7 days, 15 days is common,” the Freedom Foundation director explained. This opt-out period does not fall on “the anniversary of the card-signing itself, it’s between 20 and 30 days prior to the anniversary.”
“There’s no logical purpose for it, it’s not some standardized period,” Nelsen added. “It’s difficult to justify on the basis of administrative efficiency. It’s purely arbitrary and entirely about enabling the union to take as much dues as possible from as many people as possible.”
These deceptive practices have riled up employees. “If your foundation ever sues WFSE and State of Washington for deceptive practices, please count me in,” one worker wrote in an email to the Freedom Foundation. “I’ve worked for the state for six years but when I started a new position, the WFSE representative had me sign a new card, which I thought was strange.”
“She told us ‘We just have to have everyone sign, even if you’re already a union member. If you sign now and change your mind, you can opt out at any time later,'” the worker wrote. “I tried to opt out but was told the new form I signed had fine print that roped me in financially for life (as long as I’m in a union represented position) unless I opted out during a small 10-day window each and every year. I’ve requested a copy of my form for the past month and WFSE says it’s too busy right now to find it.”
“I’m furious and no longer support the union. I also strongly believe new employees should be fully informed. The way the union representative presented the option of leaving the union is totally deceptive and dishonest,” the employee wrote.
In August, the Freedom Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit over these deceptive practices.
Unions are bleeding, but they’re fighting back ugly.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.