Oregon’s largest government union, Service Employees International Union Local 503 (SEIU 503), has made a lot of noise singing its own praises for supporting front-line workers that kept the state running during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But SEIU leaders themselves are far from angels.
According to a fifth forgery lawsuit filed against SEIU 503 last week, the union has been employing the same racketeering criminal tactics that brought down infamous mobster John Gotti.
The Freedom Foundation filed suit on behalf of Oregon Department of Transportation employee Staci Trees, alleging the union not only denied her request to opt out and stop paying dues, but also authored a series of dishonest electronic communications and even forged Trees’ signature on a membership card so they could keep paying themselves nearly $100 a month in dues from her paycheck.
The Freedom Foundation has already filed forgery lawsuits against SEIU 503 for four other Oregon public employees.
Union forgeries aren’t just happening in Oregon. The Freedom Foundation has uncovered as many as 10 instances of union officials forging employee signatures on membership forms in neighboring Washington and California, as well.
This disturbing pattern led the Freedom Foundation to charge SEIU 503 with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
The RICO Act was designed as a tool to go after organized crime, but the law also covers “fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents.”
Simply put, the Freedom Foundation lawsuit alleges that when they lied to Trees in a series of emails and instructed the state to take money from her paychecks on the authority of a forged signature, SEIU 503 officials committed wire fraud, a federal offense.
If Staci Trees’ experience with the union was an isolated incident, it could be chalked up as an unfortunate mistake or perhaps a single bad actor at SEIU 503.
But five times within the same union local suggests a coordinated, deliberate decision to commit criminal acts for the sake of protecting its cash cow.
In these cases, SEIU 503 obviously has demonstrated an adopted practice of fighting every attempt to leave the union —including committing fraud.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in Janus v. AFSCME that requiring public employees to financially support a union either through membership dues or agency fees constitutes a violation of the workers’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association – or non-association.
Knowing they stood to lose billions of dollars if their captive audience found out they didn’t have to fork over part of their paychecks every month just to keep their job, union officials set out to find other ways to trap public employees into forced union support.
They created new membership cards that included in the fine print an annual escape period of only one or two weeks, outside of which the unions claimed the right to deduct dues regardless of when the member tried to leave.
Union bosses lived up to their reputation for intimidation, bullying public sector employees into remaining members with workplace intimidation, discriminating shift assignments, and other strong-arm scare tactics.
And as has been uncovered in five SEIU 503 cases now, when all else failed and a brave employee insisted on leaving the union, SEIU officials simply forged their signature to keep the cash flowing.
Apparently, union heads decided it was worth the risk of committing federal crimes if that meant keeping up their lavish lifestyles and political clout.
Labor bosses and their cronies in government have spent decades promoting an outward image as champions for the little guy.
Unfortunately, a lot of people remain fooled.
But the experiences of people like Staci Trees expose the unions’ dark underside.
Big labor does not care about the little guy. They care about what they can take from the little guy.
Jason Dudash is the Oregon state director of the Freedom Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to fighting the abuses of government employee unions.