Eighteen hospital employees at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle together received thousands of dollars of union dues refunds, ending a legal case that challenged union officials’ failure to tell nonmember workers they were under no obligation to pay dues during a contract hiatus. Roger White, whose federal charges led to the refunds, was represented for free by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys.

In January 2020, White sent a letter to officials of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare 1199NW resigning his membership and invoking his right to pay reduced union fees under the Foundation-won Beck U.S. Supreme Court decision. Beck prevents workers from being charged for union activities unrelated to bargaining, like union boss political lobbying.

White filed an unfair labor practice charge at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in April 2020 after SEIU officials failed to inform him that during a recent contract hiatus, when no forced dues agreement was in place between the hospital and union officials, he and other nonmembers were under no obligation to pay union dues. Then-NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb agreed with White’s Foundation attorneys that union officials had unlawfully kept White in the dark about his rights during the contract lapse.

General Counsel Robb – who was later removed in an unprecedented action by President Biden minutes after taking office despite almost a year left on the General Counsel’s four year statutory term – also found that union officials used membership forms that were “confusing and ambiguous,” and did not provide enough information to allow an informed decision about union membership. The form signed by Swedish Medical Center employees that authorized SEIU officials to take dues from their paychecks “may be interpreted to preclude employees from revoking their authorization upon expiration of the contract,” Robb found.

The SEIU’s forms misled White and his coworkers about their rights. Though union bosses stopped charging White after his complaints, other nonmembers continued paying forced union dues even when they were not legally required to pay because union officials hadn’t given them an accurate picture of their rights.

Following the General Counsel’s ruling, the case returned to the NLRB Seattle Region, and a settlement was reached that required SEIU officials to pay back over $3200 of union dues they had seized from 18 current and former Swedish Medical Center employees who had resigned their union memberships but still paid dues during the contract hiatus. The settlement also requires union officials to inform nonmember Beck objectors that they have no obligation to pay union dues during any future contract hiatus.

“To maximize their forced dues revenues, SEIU bosses kept Roger White and his coworkers in a state of ignorance about their rights, and maintained that ignorance by drafting membership forms that misled the very workers the SEIU supposedly represents,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix. “As nonmembers who wanted as little involvement with the SEIU as possible, it is outrageous that these workers were forced to pay any money just to be ‘represented’ by union bosses who didn’t respect them enough to fully inform them of their rights.”

“Cases like this, where General Counsel Robb sided with independent-minded workers whose rights were being violated by union bosses, are exactly the reason for President Biden’s unprecedented removal of Robb despite nearly 11 months remaining on his Senate-confirmed term,” added Mix. “Unfortunately given Biden’s partisan power grabs at the NLRB, if Roger White and his coworkers brought this case today, there is every reason to believe SEIU bosses would get away scot-free.”

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