On June 27, 2018 — the day the U.S. Supreme Court decided Janus v. AFSCME and struck down mandatory union dues requirements for public employees as unconstitutional — Washington Public Employees Association/UFCW Local 365 (WPEA) president Kent Stanford derided the ruling as an “attack” on “public employees’ freedom,” and the union projected its members would “(stick) together, no matter what the court says.”
Fast forward to today, and it’s clear that many state workers represented by WPEA never wanted to support the union in the first place and were happy to exercise their newfound freedom to make their own choices about whether union membership was right for them.
All told, WPEA represents about 4,000 public employees in Washington, with a little more than half employed at state government agencies and most of the rest employed at community colleges.
Payroll data obtained by the Freedom Foundation from the Office of Financial Management under the Public Records Act show the percentage of WPEA-represented state agency employees having union dues deducted from their wages has declined steadily since Janus.
In May 2018, nearly all the 2,212 WPEA-represented employees at state agencies had union dues or fees withheld from their wages by their employer, with only 17 not having dues deducted for administrative reasons.
As of February 2020, however, 25.2 percent of the 2,234 state workers represented by WPEA had no union dues withheld from their wages.
The gradual, continuing decline has occurred as the Freedom Foundation has worked diligently to spread the word to unionized public employees about their right to cease paying union dues/fees and the process for doing so.
Unfortunately, WPEA has responded in much the same way that other major government unions have — by attempting to hinder the Freedom Foundation’s educational outreach program and by working to make it harder for public employees to cancel union dues deductions from their wages.
WPEA has used its members’ dues to pay attorneys to repeatedly file litigation challenging the Freedom Foundation’s ability to mail or email informational material to public employees. While these lawsuits have so far been unsuccessful, they delay the day of reckoning by temporarily making it harder for employees to learn about their rights.
While WPEA claims it violates public employees’ privacy for the Freedom Foundation to access such information, it neglects to tell its members the union already receives lists from the state with employees’ addresses, phone numbers and emails each month under Article 39.5 of its collective bargaining agreement with the state.
Additionally, WPEA has attempted to hinder membership resignations by inserting fine print into the terms of its membership forms that purports to limit cancellation of dues deductions between 20 and 10 days prior to the annual anniversary of the card’s signing.
Because the Washington State Legislature has granted unions access to new hire orientations, new public employees represented by WPEA are likely asked to sign this card without being informed of their constitutional right not to join or pay. And if they subsequently learn of their rights, the terms of the form make it difficult to stop unwanted dues deductions.
Despite these heavy-handed countermeasures, public employees, with Freedom Foundation assistance, continue to successfully exercise their rights.
WPEA’s experience is not unique. In fact, major government throughout Washington have seen significant declines in membership rates since Janus.
The trends confirm what the Freedom Foundation argued for years prior to Janus: There was no way to truly gauge public employees’ support for government unions when payment was compelled.
And, while we’re still a few federal court rulings away from a world in which public employees can easily exercise the rights recognized under Janus, existing evidence shows that unions’ support is far below the level proclaimed by union executives’ in solidarity pep talks.