Since the U.S. Supreme Court gave state-paid individual provider home care aides (IPs) the ability to make their own choices about union membership in its 2014 Harris v. Quinndecision, Washington state officials have repeatedly worked with SEIU 775 to keep IPs in the dark and paying dues.
One of several such methods for doing so is found in Article 2.3 of the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated by SEIU 775 and the Office of Financial Management (OFM) on behalf of Gov. Jay Inslee.
All new IPs are required to attend a "contracting appointment" at which they sign their contract with DSHS and receive an orientation on the training and certification process. Article 2.3 of the CBA requires that the first 15 minutes of these mandatory contracting appointments be set aside for "a union representative to meet with the individual provider(s) participating in the contracting appointments." The purpose of such meetings is to allow union organizers an opportunity to pressure IPs to sign union membership cards.
While attendance at the union portion of the contracting appointments used to be mandatory, the state and union revised the CBA to make attendance voluntary after the Freedom Foundation brought suit against the state on behalf of IPs in Alvarez v. Inslee. Nevertheless, IPs report that they are still not told by DSHS ahead of time that they don't have to attend the union presentation.
Through requests for public records submitted to DSHS and the Snohomish County Area Agency on Agency, the Freedom Foundation obtained internal email communications indicating DSHS field staff are aware SEIU 775 uses the meetings as an opportunity to deceive and harass providers into signing up for union membership, yet are actively discouraged by DSHS management from correcting the misinformation or sharing any factual information with IPs about their right to avoid joining SEIU 775.
In a July 27, 2016, email from DSHS employee Joy McBride to Dan Murphy and the Area Agency on Aging directors, McBride wrote:
"Last week had some complaints from SEIU via ALTSA (Aging and Long Term Support Administration) because one of our staff not only stayed during the (union) presentation but spoke up in response to IPs who were looking at her for help when they were being pushed into signing up (for union membership). We were instructed that our staff must not be present during the 15 minutes and must remain neutral at all times. Prior to that, staff here had not received any information about expectations for them during the union orientation process." (Errors in original)
Similarly, a Sept. 12, 2016, email sent by Grace Kiboneka, planning and development manager in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, stated:
"We are increasingly receiving complaints from the union concerning field staff statements and presence during union presentations at IP contracting as anti-union. Some of the allegation include staff distributing freedom foundation fliers, expressing anti-union sentiments and addressing IPs, attending the union portion of the IP contracting session and interrupting Union representatives with questions or telling IPs they don't have to join the union. Please remind field staff that, the state and/or its agents can't be perceived as interfering in union activity, such a perception could lead to an Unfair Labor Practice against the state. The union is responsible for the content of their presentation during the sanctioned union time. As a best practice, staff should not be present during union presentation that way they don't feel compelled to ask questions or provide clarification." (Errors in original)
In a follow up email sent on September 13, 2016, Kiboneka wrote,
"It appears though with the inception of union orientation at field offices there is been an increased occurrence and frequency of these complaints in a short period of time, two of which resulted in grievances." (Errors in original)
Lastly, in a Sept. 14, 2016, email to Bea-Alise Rector, director of the Home and Community Services Division of ALTSA, Kiboneka stated,
"We have not published a MB (management bulletin) on this issue. In the past we had a correspondence from the Assistance Secretary (Bill Moss?) to all staff via e-mail. Subsequently correspondences have been from Directors to RAs and AAAs to communicate with staff and provide coaching as may be needed." (Errors in original)
Something is terribly wrong when DSHS field staff know the IPs are being manipulated and lied to by SEIU organizers and are prevented from intervening by DSHS management.
In the private sector, where labor unions do not have the exceptional ability to choose who sits opposite from them at the bargaining table, this type of conduct on the part of an employer is far less common. In government, unfortunately, where unions can elect their own employer, the political interests of public officials in maximizing campaign contributions from organized labor aligns with unions' interest in maximizing membership and dues collection. The result is a perversion of the typical dynamic in labor relations whereby the employer and union unite against the interests of employees, forcing workers to turn to outside third parties, such as the Freedom Foundation, for assistance when their rights are being violated.
These revelations surface merely days after DSHS admitted to violating the Public Records Act by intentionally delaying the release of the contracting appointment schedule to the Freedom Foundation in order to give SEIU 775 time to file litigation challenging the schedule's release. The Freedom Foundation sought the schedule in order to distribute informational pamphlets about IPs' rights outside the contracting appointments, since IPs apparently won't receive accurate information once inside. DSHS ultimately paid $18,000 in penalties and attorney's fees to the Freedom Foundation for violating the law.
All email communications referenced in this article were obtained by the Freedom Foundation in response to requests for public records submitted to DSHS and the Snohomish County Area Agency on Aging.