- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2020

A series of federal class-action lawsuits in Western states accuse state employee unions of faking signatures to maintain membership and dues.

The latest legal challenges hit Service Employees International Union chapters in California, Oregon and Washington state with allegations they cooked the books to inflate membership numbers.

“This isn’t an accounting error or an honest mistake,” said Eric Stahlfeld, chief litigator for Freedom Foundation, the free-market conservative think tank that brought the lawsuits on behalf of individual state workers.

Mr. Stahlfeld described the alleged union conduct as “a pattern of criminal behavior.” “These individual employees are completely unrelated but, taken collectively, they demonstrate a pattern or practice of the union cutting corners in a desperate attempt to retain members,” he said.

The latest court action bring the total number of class-action lawsuits against SEIU chapters to 12 since 2019.

The repetitive nature of bogus signatures across states and months constitutes a disturbing institutional pattern, according to the foundation.

Lawyers in San Francisco representing some of the SEIU chapters and the chapters themselves refused to comment on the lawsuits.

Margo Cash Schiewe, an Oregon state employee who led the lawsuit against SEIU 503, said she is being misrepresented by the union.

“I just didn’t believe in the way they are spending my dues,” she said. “I’m not for abortions, I’m not for [Oregon Democratic Gov.] Kate Brown.”

After the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision, which ruled that unwilling public employees do not have to pay union dues or have them automatically deducted from paychecks, Ms. Cash Schiewe said the SEIU told her it meant that she was required to join.

Before that, Ms. Cash Scheiwe had been paying “fair share” dues, which deduct $85.95 from her monthly check plus $2.75 for “issues,” she said.

She filled out some forms online but was nagged by the suspicion the union had misrepresented the court’s decision. When she learned what the ruling said, she demanded her money back and was told she could not withdraw until May 2020.

“The whole fact I was lied to, that’s what really bugs me,” she said. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen next as I don’t want my money back, I just don’t want to pay dues anymore.”

The other defendants in the federal suits filed this week are SEIU 2015 in California and SEIU 775 in Washington. Most of the defendants are homecare providers, a key component of SEIU membership.

Ms. Cash Schiewe works for the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

In most of the lawsuits, the public employees say they never electronically signed the documents the union says show their membership.

Time and date stamps, as well as IP addresses, back up those claims, said Freedom Foundation attorney Rebekah Millard.

In one of the suits, Semerjyan v. SEIU 2015 in California, the defendant said the card the union sent her was clearly a forged signature.

Asked how confident they were the employees hadn’t signed electronically by mistake or had forgotten doing so, Ms. Millard replied: “We filed a lawsuit about it.”

Union opponents heralded the Janus decision as a major First Amendment victory that would financially hamstring government employee unions.

Studies have shown that, thus far, unions have adopted various tactics such as higher dues and sustained membership drives that effectively cushioned the blow.

The unions have yet to respond in court papers.

Ms. Millard said the defendants are open to settlement talks but unions rarely want to strike a deal in these types of cases.

“All [the workers] want is to stop paying,” she said. “We’re prepared for a fight.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide