SALEM — Two anti-union groups have filed a federal lawsuit that could further erode the finances and political power of Oregon’s public employee unions.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME ended mandatory collective bargaining fees in a June 27 ruling precipitated by a challenge by an Illinois public employee.

Now, Washington-based Freedom Foundation and Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation are seeking to force 14 local labor unions to refund some of the fees paid prior to high court ruling.

“The case is on behalf of nonmembers who were required, or forced, to pay fees seeking the money back that they were unconstitutionally or illegally forced to pay,” said Milton Chappell, a lawyer with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

The 16-page complaint says the deductions violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right “not to associate with or financially support a labor organization and its affiliates as a condition of employment, or to have forced fees deducted from their wages without their affirmative consent…”

A dozen public employees from around the state are named as plaintiffs, though the lawsuit requests class action status for all Oregon public employees who objected to having the collective bargaining fees deducted from their paychecks. It’s unclear how much money the plaintiffs are seeking in damages, refunds or restitution, but some plaintiffs could seek a refund of fees paid as far back as 2012 under the state statute of limitation.

The legal action is based on the Federal Civil Rights Act to “redress the deprivation” of rights, according to the lawsuit.

Service Employees International Union 503 is one of the unions targeted in the litigation.

“SEIU 503 is committed to raising standards for workers throughout Oregon,” said Melissa Unger, the union’s executive director. “The fact that the Freedom Foundation is filing this distraction lawsuit as public workers move into bargaining is a perfect example of their cynical attempts to undermine workers’ pay and benefits.

“Anti-worker groups like the Freedom Foundation want to continue trying bogus cases in the press, but they know the bottom line is that we were following the law prior to Janus, and we’re following the law today.”

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