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Maryann Rose says a 2014 Supreme Court decision exempted state-contracted care workers from mandatory fees.

A Deschutes County home care worker has sued her union for barring her from opting out of membership dues in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that exempted home care contractors from mandatory union fees.

The federal lawsuit against Service Employees International Union 503 and the state of Oregon is the latest in a growing body of litigation challenging mandatory union fees.

In this case, Maryann Rose, a Terrebonne home care worker, claims that SEIU 503 has violated her freedoms of speech and association by forcing her to wait to opt out of dues until her membership is up for renewal.

“Our position is once a person says they want to exercise their rights the union and state should honor that and stop collecting dues from that individual,” said Nick Dagostino, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation, which is representing Rose.

Rose signed up for union membership before the Supreme Court in June 2014 issued its opinion on Harris v. Quinn exempting home care contractors from mandatory union fees. When Rose sent the union a letter Nov. 20 requesting to end her membership and opt out of dues and fees, the union responded that she had to wait until her membership was up for renewal, Dagostino said.

“Her First Amendment right to opt out at anytime wasn’t ever waived,” he said.

She is seeking reimbursement for the dues she has paid since November, when she first requested to resign her membership after learning about Supreme Court opinion. She also is asking for attorney fees to compensate her attorneys from the nonprofit Freedom Foundation, who are representing her without cost to her.

Heather Conroy of the SEIU 503 declined to comment on specifics of the pending lawsuit.

"The Freedom Foundation has made no secret of the fact that their top priority is to defund and marginalize effective public worker unions like SEIU 503," Conroy said. "They've been very clear that tying up our organization's resources through lawsuits like this one is a key tactic in reaching that goal.

"Tens of thousands of working Oregonians come together in SEIU to make our state a more just and equitable place to live and work. Home care workers have won huge gains for themselves, their consumers and their communities. No lawsuit will stand in the way of working people coming together to improve their lives and to create a better future for their families."

In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court ruled that because home care workers are contractors in state-subsidized programs, rather than public employees, they have no obligation to pay fees to a union with which the state has a collective bargaining agreement.

Public employees are required to pay so-called “fair share” fees to unions with which the state has a collective bargaining agreement. The fees are used to cover the cost of collective bargaining and are mandatory even if a public employee opts out of membership, which might entail paying dues that pay for the union’s political and lobbying efforts.

Another Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, argued earlier this year, challenges those mandatory fees. That case might be in limbo with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. An opinion on that case is due in June. If the justices are tied over the matter, the court could opt to defer to the lower court’s decision or hear the case again once Scalia’s successor is confirmed, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Jill Gibson, an attorney with the Freedom Foundation, has renewed work on a ballot initiative in Oregon to stop mandatory union fees. The initiative has been tied up in Oregon Supreme Court over challenges to the attorney general’s ballot title.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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