|An Oregon state employee and a labor union have reached a settlement over her lawsuit seeking payback of obligatory union fees, marking the first refund of forced fees since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that government workers can't be required to contribute to labor groups, the employee's lawyers said Monday.
Debora Nearman, a systems analyst with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in her lawsuit filed in April in federal court that the state's practice of forcing her to pay fees to fund union activity violated her First Amendment freedoms. She said the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, opposes her political and religious views and even led a campaign against her husband Mike when he successfully ran as a Republican candidate for the state Legislature in 2016.
Nearman is a member of a state-wide bargaining unit represented by SEIU but doesn't belong to the union. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which was involved in both the Supreme Court case and Nearman's, is handling some 200 other cases across the country, including a class-action lawsuit in California by 30,000 state employees, said Patrick Semmens, the group's vice president.
If the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the California case, they stand to be refunded more than $100 million, Semmens estimated.
Nearman said in a telephone interview the mailers sent by a political action committee funded by the union were "disgusting."
One showed a photo of her husband superimposed in front of a police car with flashing lights, giving the impression that he was a criminal, she said. Another hinted he didn't care about disabled people, said Nearman, who suffers from a progressive neuro-muscular disease. "I was just heartbroken to see that," she said.