Lawsuits allege unions used forgery to gain members, dues
Government employee unions, including the Service Employees International Union, are being accused of using forgery and other illegal tactics to raise membership in a series of lawsuits filed this week by the Freedom Foundation.
The lawsuits, filed by the nonprofit think tank in federal court on behalf of five workers in Washington, Oregon, and California, allege that the unions coerced and tricked people into joining, and even forged their signatures on print and electronic membership documents.
“We’ve seen them be very aggressive — employing coercive tactics, employing deceptive tactics, and now even forging signatures on forms to try to continue that dues collection,” said Maxford Nelsen with the Freedom Foundation.
Three of the workers represented are home caregivers; the other two work for the Oregon state government.
Nelsen said a Seattle woman being represented had been pressured repeatedly by the SEIU to become a member after she began working as a full-time caregiver for her mother in 2014. Even though she always refused, she said she has had over $3,000 taken out of her pay in union dues over the years.
The union claimed that she signed an electronic membership form, but the caregiver said she never signed such a thing — and Nelsen said the form’s electronic metadata does not match her location.
“She’s been very specific about her interactions with the union. … All the evidence that we’ve been able to accumulate shows that she never signed anything,” he said.
Nelsen believes there may be a reason behind these actions. He noted that the unions’ membership has decreased in the last couple of years due to changes in law from recent court decisions, such as 2018’s Janus v. AFCME. This decision allowed public employees (an umbrella that Medicaid-paid home caregivers fall under) the choice to opt out of union membership.
“They’ve seen their membership decline as a result of those decisions,” Nelsen said. “Right now, I believe 20 percent of those Medicaid-paid home caregivers are not having union dues withheld from their wages.”
For a home caregiver, annual union dues amount to 3.2 percent of their yearly income, adding up to an average of $700. The Freedom Foundation seeks full refunds, plus interest, for every worker represented in its suits. Nelsen also hopes laws around dues deductions will change to protect workers from having this money taken without their consent.
Many of the home caregivers in Washington state care for elderly or ailing relatives.
“These home caregivers are doing incredible work … and having to worry about whether the union that’s supposed to be representing them is taking advantage of them is really just an unnecessary additional burden,” Nelsen said.
The SEIU has not yet responded to a request for comment.