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SEIU 503 Answers Lawsuit Over "Mandatory" Membership

The combined voices of more than 20,000 SEIU home care workers in Oregon have caught the attention of the conservative Freedom Foundation, a group that has launched an anti-union ad campaign and, this week, sued SEIU Local 503 and several state department heads. Courtesy: SEIU Local 503.
The combined voices of more than 20,000 SEIU home care workers in Oregon have caught the attention of the conservative Freedom Foundation, a group that has launched an anti-union ad campaign and, this week, sued SEIU Local 503 and several state department heads. Courtesy: SEIU Local 503.
August 14, 2015

SALEM, Ore. - An Oregon labor union is the target of a lawsuit challenging its right to represent and charge dues to people who don't want to be union members.

The Freedom Foundation filed the suit Thursday.

Some members of SEIU Local 503 say they're perplexed by the legal action. Meleta Christian of Roseburg, a personal support worker for people with disabilities, said union membership isn't mandatory, adding that she thinks SEIU's success in bargaining for better wages and benefits is seen by some as intimidating.

"I don't feel I have to be a member, but I'm choosing to be a member. That's my choice," she said. "Our union is very strong and it's a member-run union. They've done a lot of good stuff for us, and we have a lot of strength in numbers."

The union represents more than 20,000 home-care and personal-care workers in Oregon.

The lawsuit also names Gov. Kate Brown and several state department heads. The Freedom Foundation gets its funding from conservatives and says it was created to fight public-sector unions. It also is challenging SEIU in Washington state, where the group is based.

For those who provide care for state-paid clients in Oregon, the same wage scale, benefits and other contract provisions apply whether or not they join the union. Penny Wicklander, a home-care worker from Pendleton, said it's a small price to pay for the results of collective bargaining.

"They have benefits; they have some retirement that they can get into, the paid sick leave," she said. "And then, you're part of a bigger thing, and you feel like you have a voice in what's happening around you."

The lawsuit may be fallout from last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Illinois case. The justices in Harris v. Quinn ruled 5-4 that home-care workers there could not be required to join a union or pay dues. In Oregon, SEIU Local 503's executive director said they are not required to do either.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR