When you add up attorneys' fees, marketing costs, paid lobbyists, postage costs and all the expenses associated with holding an election, SEIU 503 last week squandered just over $500,000 of its members' dues money to obtain their permission to drop the union's nonprofit status under Oregon state incorporation laws.
In a very real sense, it was an election between the union leadership and its members.
And the members lost. By a landslide.
Last Friday, SEIU 503 posted a notice on its website boasting that 91 percent of those voting approved the change. What wasn't mentioned, of course, was that only 7,000 out of roughly 49,000 eligible members bothered to vote – an embarrassing showing if the union were capable of embarrassment.
Then again, given SEIU 503's long history of dissembling and intimidation, the wonder is that anyone bothered at all.
SEIU 503 represents public employees in Oregon – nearly half of whom have no choice but to hand over a portion of their paychecks in union dues or fees every month because Oregon isn't a right-to-work state. But the election wasn't about them.
Rather, it was about the 55 percent of SEIU 503 members who earn a state subsidy for providing home-based care to a disabled loved one. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2014, these workers now have a right to pay the union nothing – and SEIU 503's leaders are determined to keep them from knowing about it.
It wasn't billed that way, of course. Instead, the union argued it needed to protect its members' privacy from the Freedom Foundation, a Washington-based free-market think tank with a branch office in Salem that wanted to obtain their contact information.
What the union left out of its scare tactics was that the Freedom Foundation only wanted the contact information so it could educate the workers about their newly affirmed constitutional right to opt out – something the union has spent millions of the workers' dues dollars to keep them from learning.
This month's SEIU 503 election was simply an attempt to close a loophole it discovered had been left open three years ago when the union's former president successfully sued to obtain the membership list in order to inform the members about a merger he wanted them to oppose.
The court in that case ruled that all members of a nonprofit corporation must be given access to its membership list, and the union knows there are many disgruntled members who'd gladly turn this one over to the Freedom Foundation if they had it.
SEIU 503 was also ordered to hold yearly members meetings – something the union would prefer to avoid in favor of more intimate gatherings at which it isn't outnumbered by thousands of unhappy caregivers.
Both necessities are now alleviated thanks to the change in the union's incorporation status.
The unintended consequence, however, is that, under the new structure, both the union leaders and the members can be held responsible for SEIU 503's financial obligations.
Beyond that, the arrangement changes nothing that wasn't true before the election for the Freedom Foundation or any other outside interest. But for the members themselves, the union just became significantly less transparent and accountable.
It was a typical union blunder. Rather than making it more difficult for members to exercise their legal right to defect, SEIU 503 simply provided another reason why they should.
As if they needed one.