Oregon teachers unions are being sued in federal court over what a think tank group says are civil rights violations.
Three Oregon teachers teamed up with the Freedom Foundation — a nonprofit advocacy think tank that rallies against the role of labor unions in public sector jobs — to file a federal complaint over the Oregon Education Association's union membership practices. The lawsuit also names as defendants the Portland Association of Teachers, Portland Public Schools, Eagle Point District 9 and a Southern Oregon teachers union.
The complaint, filed Tuesday, June 11, in Medford, suggests the OEA — a statewide teachers union — denied requests from Jeremy Durst, Deanne Tanner and Michael Garcie to leave their unions, saying they couldn't change their membership status until September.
Freedom Foundation attorney Rebekah Millard says that's a violation of their civil rights.
Millard points to a 2018 Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, which determined public employees cannot be mandated to join employee labor unions or pay union dues.
"We view this as an extension of the Janus decision," Millard said. "Basically you can't take money from people for them to have public sector jobs."
Freedom Foundation suggests that teachers should be able to opt out of their union contracts at any time, and should be made fully aware that they can hold a teaching position without being a union member.
John Larson, OEA president and a high school English teacher, said the lawsuit and its backers are simply trying to undermine recent efforts of teachers and the unions that protect them.
"Today is just the latest event in a long line of frivolous lawsuits the corporate-backed, national anti-worker Freedom Foundation has filed," Larson said. "This fringe group consistently opposes values Oregonians hold and has never lifted a finger to support students, educators or improve conditions in Oregon classrooms.
The union president said the timing of the lawsuit, which comes on the heels of Oregon lawmakers approving a $2 billion education package for K-12 schools amid statewide teacher walkouts is "no surprise."
"They see that together in union, educators have power to improve our communities and support students," Larson added.
Freedom Foundation has launched similar legal challenges to employee unions in Washington and California.
Even if teachers decline union membership, the union must still represent them in contract negotiations and other bargaining issues, because it is the designated bargaining unit for classified school district employees, Millard said.
She said the goal of the lawsuit is to have future union contracts clearly spell out employees' rights, or give them a form to sign if they waive their rights to opt out of any contract.
Freedom Foundation also wants to see the three teachers behind the complaint reimbursed for their 2018-19 school year union dues, which she estimates at roughly $100 per month for most members.
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