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SEIU 503

How State Employees in Oregon Can Opt Out of a Portion of SEIU 503 Dues

Over 22,000 State of Oregon employees are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503.

Each year, SEIU 503 charges state employees hundreds of dollars in union dues and fees. However, much of the union’s budget goes towards political activity and other causes that are unrelated to workplace representation.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions have long established that unions are not allowed to charge public employees for political, ideological or other nonessential union expenses as a condition of employment (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977) and Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, 500 U.S. 507 (1991)).

As a result, any public employee may become an “agency fee payer” by resigning formal union membership and paying a reduced workplace representation fee, which is less than full union dues.

You can request to pay the reduced fee by filling out the form below, printing it and mailing it to SEIU 503.

To reduce your payment to the union:

  1. Enter your information into the form below and click “submit.”
  2. On the next page, click the link to open your customized form. You will also receive an email with a link to your form.
  3. Print the form. If you check the appropriate box below, we’ll mail you a copy of the form.
  4. Sign and date the form.
  5. Mail the completed form to SEIU 503 at the address at the top of the form. We highly recommend sending it via certified mail.
  • We will not contact you unless you choose to receive updates from us
  • e.g. DAS, DHS, etc.

The union will still represent you in collective bargaining, contract management and grievance processing, but you can save hundreds of dollars per year and make your own decisions about politics and causes.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Depending on the outcome of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case called Janus v. AFSCME, public employees nationwide could have the ability to opt out of paying all union dues as early as July 2018.


How do I keep my money from going to SEIU 503’s extraneous activities like politics and ideological causes?

Completing the form above will generate a letter you can send to SEIU 503 to resign your formal union membership and request a rebate of the portion of your dues the union spends on politics and activities unrelated to workplace representation.

Send a signed copy of your letter to:

Melissa Unger, Executive Director
SEIU 503
P.O. Box 12159
Salem, OR 97309

We highly recommend sending the letter via certified mail so you have proof of delivery. Keep a copy of the letter and your certified mail receipt for your reference.

How much is the refund?

The total refund of overcharges typically ranges from 20 to 30 percent of full union dues.

Each year, SEIU 503 must calculate what portion of its budget is “nonchargeable,” or refundable to agency fee payers. For example, if the union estimates that 30 percent of its budget goes towards political and other nonessential activity during a given year, then an agency fee payer will pay 30 percent less than full union dues that year.

The U.S. Supreme Court has required unions to provide this calculation (commonly referred to as a Hudson notice) to all agency fee payers. (Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292, (1986)). Employees who opt out of SEIU 503 and request to pay the reduced fee should receive this notice each February.

SEIU 503’s Hudson notice from 2016 is available here. According to page six of the union’s cover letter, employees who opted out and requested to pay the reduced fee were refunded over 20 percent of their dues in 2016.

Will I need to request my refund every year?

No. Agency fee payers will automatically receive quarterly or semi-annual “advance reduction” checks from SEIU 503.

How do I know the union calculated my refund correctly?

It is possible to challenge the union’s calculation through a process outlined in the union’s notice sent to agency fee payers each year. Unions will schedule an “arbitration” for those challenging the calculation at which some of the evidence used to calculate the refund will be disclosed.

If I stop paying the full amount of dues to the union, will I still receive the same wages and benefits specified in SEIU 503's contract with the state?

Yes. SEIU 503 has arranged to be the “exclusive representative” of its bargaining units, meaning it is impossible for workers to get out of the terms of the contract, even if they cease paying the full amount of dues.

Does opting out affect my pension?

No. Under state law, a union contract is binding on all employees in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether they are technically union “members.” Your compensation, benefits and conditions of employment are all set by the contract and will remain unchanged whether you pay full union dues or only the representation fee.

Will I lose my health insurance?

No. Your health insurance and other employer-provided benefits will remain the same regardless of your union membership status.

Will the union stop helping me with workplace issues if I pay only the workplace representation fee?

The union has been recognized by the state as the “exclusive representative” of all members of the bargaining unit, whether formal union members or not. In return for the monopoly on this particular service, unions have a corresponding legal duty to provide fair representation.

How will my relationship with the union change if I resign my membership in SEIU 503 and pay the reduced agency fee?

While the terms of the contract will still govern your employment, union officials commonly prohibit nonmembers from participating in internal union affairs, such as attending union meetings, voting for union officers or participating in contract ratification votes. You’ll also be ineligible for certain “members only” benefits, such as discounts on additional insurance or deals the union has arranged with businesses, if any. You may no longer receive the union newsletter or similar publications.

Can I donate to a charity instead?

Those who have a personal religious, faith-based objection to the union or its activities are allowed under state and federal law to donate the full amount of their dues to a charity instead of supporting the union. This option requires the objector to write a letter to the local union president. For more information about the accommodation for religious objectors, see the information here.

Why do people opt out of the union?

Many public employees simply do not like being overcharged for workplace representation services.

Others have more specific concerns about the union arrangement. They may find that the union’s one-size-fits-all agenda does not serve them well because they are new to the profession, have a specialty which is not acknowledged in bargaining, or they believe their effectiveness is undercompensated. Some resent the union’s role in enabling and defending underperforming employees. Many find the politicking and use of dues to advance partisan causes, candidates and ideology distasteful. Still others believe that union officials take advantage of the power to force people to pay by overcharging and underperforming.

Some states do not allow unions to force public employees to support them financially. Public sector union activities – including negotiating with government – potentially violate the First Amendment rights of workers who are forced to fund the political voice of the union. In a pending U.S. Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, a public employee from Illinois is seeking to prove that being forced to financially support a union is unconstitutional.  A ruling is expected in June 2018.

How does SEIU 503 spend my dues money?

According to reports the union must file with the U.S. Department of Labor, SEIU 503 collected over $30 million in dues and fees from its members in 2017.

  • $7.3 million (nearly 25 percent) went to the SEIU’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. to support its massive political, economic and social agenda. The national SEIU regularly supports a host of controversial organizations like Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest abortion provider — which received $20,000 from SEIU last year alone.
  • $4.2 million (about 14 percent) was spent by SEIU 503 on political candidates and causes in Oregon.
  • $117,969 was paid to private attorneys, some of which was used to fight efforts by the Freedom Foundation to help public employees exercise their constitutional rights.
  • $232,100 was spent on hotels, travel, food and catering for union staff.

Examples of some interesting expenses include:

  • $2.8 million contributed to “Yes on 97,” the campaign for a 2016 ballot measure that 60 percent of Oregonians rejected.
  • $330,560 paid to Our Oregon, the left-wing group responsible for the failed Yes on 97 campaign.
  • $100,000 paid to Defend Oregon, another political group dedicated solely to ballot measures in Oregon.
  • $129,185 paid to professional political consultants.

In addition:

  • 17 SEIU 503 employees were paid six-figure salaries last year.
  • SEIU 503 executive director Melissa Unger received a salary of $114,142 last year.
  • SEIU international president Mary Kay Henry received a salary of $282,752 last year.

The IRS requires unions to annually file a form 990 tax return. These are public documents and can be found online at sites like the Foundation Center.

A few public sector unions are required to file an LM-2 report with the U.S. Department of Labor. They can be viewed at the U.S. DOL union search page.