Though unions are normally considered organizations that protect the interests of workers, two Oregonians, along with an out-of-state donor, are pushing a ballot initiative that would seek to protect employees from union membership.
The Oregonianreported in late March that Washington County attorney Jill Gibson Odell – the former legislative director in the Oregon House Republican office from 2007 until 2010 – and Libby Braeda of Tigard, Oregon had introduced Initiative Petition 17 to allow public employees to opt out of paying union dues. Odell and Braeda, who recently collected the 1000 signatures needed to give their petition a proposed title (they have chosen the “Public Employee Choice Act”), want to get the proposed act on the legislative ballot for November 2014, but will need to clear several legal hurdles before they can do so. To that end, they have the backing of Loren Parks, a major political contributor from Nevada, who has already donated $6000 to the initiative.
Fight Over Public Employees’ Union Dues
As the law currently stands, public employees (aside from those in certain positions, including managerial or supervisory positions) are allowed to join unions and collective bargaining agreements. These public employees, whose positions have been unionized, are allowed to opt out of joining their respective unions, but are still required to pay their ‘fair share’ of the union dues. The Public Employee Choice Act would allow these employees to continue to opt out of joining the union, and would also allow them to opt out of paying these ‘fair share’ dues when they decide not to join the union.
If the Public Employee Choice Act were to make it to the ballot in November of next year, it would be a significant blow to the public employee unions that have become politically active in Oregon. Up until this point, the unions have been able to fend off attacks to their dues collection, including several ballot measures that sought to prevent them from using paycheck deductions to raise political donations for the union.
Protecting Employees or Weakening Unions?
As the initiative’s sponsors have only recently gotten the signatures that they need to give their petition a name, it is still early days in the movement to stop public employees from having to pay union dues. Supporters of the initiative have a strong emotional appeal in the argument that employees who do not want to unionize should not be forced anyway to pay for union activities. Odell, the major backer of the initiative, claims that she is not actually criticizing the unions, but that she believes that public employees’ freedom of choice regarding union dues is a “civil rights issue.”
However, as the debates around this initiative develop, local labor leaders will likely argue that this is anti-union activism masquerading as concern for employee freedom of choice. They will also have a strong claim that this initiative is an attempt to weaken public employee unions, which in the long run will actually strip public employees of more choices than it will give them. Public employees would do well to keep a close watch on how this initiative progresses, and to contact anattorney with any questions about their employment rights and responsibilities