TACOMA, Wash. – Virtually everyone who looked closely at Initiative 1501 agreed it was a Trojan horse designed to deceive Washington state voters into approving something they wouldn't otherwise.
But the measure, which won approval in the state's November general election, was also unconstitutional.
That's the claim made in a federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Tacoma by the Freedom Foundation – the Olympia-based think tank targeted by I-1501.
The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration recognizing the ballot measure violates both the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as a permanent injunction overturning it.
In addition, the Freedom Foundation has requested a temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing it until a final ruling is issued.
"Every newspaper in the state editorialized against I-1501," said Freedom Foundation Litigation Counsel David Dewhirst. "It was clearly deceptive, illegal and unconstitutional. But sometimes these things pass anyway and have to be decided in court. This is one of those times."
Billing itself as a way of "increasing criminal identity-theft penalties (and) expanding civil liability for consumer fraud targeting seniors and vulnerable individuals," Initiative 1501 won handily at the ballot box.
The measure was authored, sponsored and funded exclusively by public-sector labor unions including SEIU 775, which represents around 35,000 state-compensated home healthcare providers, and SEIU 925, which represents around 8,000 home-based childcare providers in Washington.
Its hidden objective was to exempt the names of these workers from public disclosure laws that apply to every other public employee. This matters because without the names and contact information of these employees, the Freedom Foundation cannot tell them about a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave providers the right to entirely stop paying union fees.
Without public disclosure of the names, union members don't know that they can save hundreds of dollars a year in union dues.
"The unions spent two years filing dozens of lawsuits and motions trying to keep us from contacting these providers," Dewhirst said. "But they lost every one of them. Then they got their friends in the Legislature to introduce bill that would have criminalized our outreach, but that failed, too.
"I-1501 was their last-ditch effort to stop the Foundation from telling providers about their rights, and they cloaked this truth in a blanket of lies about protecting seniors from identity theft," he said. "Unfortunately, it worked – temporarily."
In addition to the Freedom Foundation, the lawsuit's plaintiffs include: Brad Boardman, a Snohomish County home healthcare provider; and, Shannon Benn and Debbie Thurber, childcare providers from Spokane and Spokane Valley, respectively.
The suit alleges I-1501 blatantly violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause because it allows unions to access the contact information for public employees but denies that same information to anyone else.
Even worse, the exception was made with "specific animosity toward the Freedom Foundation," Dewhirst said. "And you can't punish someone you don't like by stripping away their constitutional rights."
The initiative also violates the First Amendment-based free association rights of these workers, he added, because it removes any possibility that providers will ever be able to democratically replace their unions.
"How can the providers share their concerns about the union – and possibly discuss decertifying it – if they can't even communicate with one another?" Dewhirst asked.
"This isn't about the Freedom Foundation," he noted. "The real victims here are thousands of low-income Washingtonians who just want to care for their children or their disabled loved ones."
"They don't share the unions' values or political agenda, but they've been forced to support them anyway or risk losing their paychecks," Dewhirst said. "The unions have spent millions of providers' dollars in a failed attempt to keep providers in the dark about their legal rights. It's despicable, and it's got to stop."