Freedom Foundation

Bills seek to subject public employees to union membership pitches

With their newfound control of both houses of the state Legislature, Democrats are doing their best to pay back their most prolific political supporters — government unions.

Unions representing public employees fear the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME will free employees from the obligation to pay union dues and fees as a condition of employment.

Consequently, government unions and their allies in the state Legislature are working overtime to put in place a series of countermeasures designed to ensure unions’ ability to continue collecting dues from as many public employees as possible.

The latest such attempt involves SB 6229, introduced by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), and its companion HB 2624, introduced by Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles). Sen. Van De Wege is a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters while Rep. Chapman is a former union police officer.

Both bills require public employers to allow unions to conduct a captive-audience meeting with newly hired employees lasting at least 30 minutes.

While the bill sponsors each attempted to describe the bill in inoffensive terms, claiming it would help employees and employers understand collective bargaining rights, union lobbyists testifying on the two bills made their true purpose quite apparent.

Testifying in support of HB 2624, Lucinda Young of the Washington Education Association (WEA) argued, “…it’s important for teachers to speak with other teachers about what it’s like to be in the union and what it might provide for that educator,” and contended the meetings would provide teachers with “…an opportunity to ask questions and hopefully sign their (union) membership form…”

Indeed, guidance from the National Education Association, WEA’s parent organization, about how to undermine the Janus decision directs its affiliates to seek captive-audience meetings with new teachers as a way to pressure new teachers to sign membership forms requiring the school district to withhold union dues from their pay.

In testimony supporting SB 6229, Teamsters 117 lobbyist Brenda Wiest promoted the bill as a way to fight back against “anti-union forces seeking to silence worker voices.” She claimed further that the bill would “ensure employees understand their right to join or not join a union…”

Experience, however, indicates such captive-audience meetings are more coercive than informative.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 in Harris v. Quinn that “partial-public employees” like Washington’s Medicaid-paid individual provider home care aides (IPs) could not be forced to financially support a union against their will, SEIU 775 and the state deployed a series of countermeasures to circumvent the ruling. One such tactic involved forcing IPs to sit through two captive-audience meetings with union organizers as part of their contracting and training process.

Since then, SEIU representatives have been caught on tape falsely telling caregivers they had to join the union. In public records, frontline Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) staff have described SEIU 775 organizers as, “aggressive,” “forceful,” “rude,” “unprofessional,” “coercive,” “demanding,” and “bullying.” DSHS staff have also reported caregivers feeling, “pressured,” “misled,” “tricked,” “coerced,” “intimidated” and “forced” into signing SEIU membership forms authorizing the deduction of union dues from their pay by the state.

In one case, DSHS staff report a caregiver being reduced to tears by the high-pressure tactics of two SEIU organizers.

Additional records obtained recently from DSHS by the Freedom Foundation indicate that SEIU’s orientations are so coercive that IPs respond with “frustration, confusion and sometimes anger at the contracting process, etc. which is then often directed at (DSHS) staff.” In short, the behavior of SEIU organizers “makes the contracting process more challenging.”

Joining the Freedom Foundation in testifying against SB 6229 before the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee was Andrea Vangor, an IP with firsthand experience with SEIU organizers. Vangor explained to the committee:

Last year I went through the training to become an independent provider, which involved attending an orientation meeting given by a union representative… Not before, during or after this event was it in any way indicated by any of the materials I received that this was an optional meeting… The presenter from this union, during his discourse, in two separate places said, ‘If you do not sign this union card you might not be paid on time or at all.’ … This was a threatening thing to hear… When I held up my little hand and said, ‘If I don’t sign this card, does that mean you won’t take dues out of my pay?’ the gentleman said, ‘Well, no, we’ll continue to take dues out’ – because I put him on the spot. I said, ‘Well, how do I make you stop taking dues out of my pay?’ And he said, ‘Well, there is a way to do that.’ And I said, ‘Well, please tell me.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you later, after the meeting.’ I said, ‘Well, why don’t you tell me now so that other people can hear it that might be interested?’ And he said, ‘No, I’ll tell you later.’ Except he didn’t. He left.

This is the same type of process union-backed Democrats wish to impose on all public employees through SB 6229 and HB 2624.

To make matters worse, the new membership cards being distributed by the major government unions in Washington — and that public employees will be pressured to sign in these captive audience meetings — make it very difficult for employees who do sign the card to ever cancel the deduction of union dues from their pay.

The House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), passed HB 2624 on a party-line vote. Sells is a past union president and currently secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish County Labor Council. Similarly, in the Senate, the Labor and Commerce Committee, chaired by former Washington State Labor Council communications director Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), passed SB 6229 along party lines.

It might be possible to make a straight-faced argument for the bills if unions had no legitimate means of promoting membership or communicating with public employees, but a quick review of some of the major public-sector collective bargaining agreements indicates that unions have more than sufficient means of promoting their services:

Washington Federation of State Employees:

  • 30-minute union orientation for new employees – Article 39.11
  • Union representatives have access to employer premises – Article 39.1(b)
  • Union can place bulletin boards on employer premises – Article 39.6
  • Union receives employees’ name, mailing address, and phone number – Article 40.7

Teamsters Local 117:

  • 30-minute union orientation for new employees – Article 2.8
  • Union receives employees’ name, mailing address, and phone number – Article 2.9
  • Union can place bulletin boards on employer premises – Article 6.2
  • Union business reps permitted access to employer premises – Article 7.7
  • Shop stewards can use state facilities, resources and equipment – Article 6.1

Washington Public Employees Association:

  • 30-minute union orientation for new employees – Article 38.10
  • Union representatives have access to employer facilities – Article 38.2
  • Union has some access to state facilities, resources, and equipment – Article 38.4
  • Union can place bulletin boards on employer premises – Article 38.6
  • Distribution of union material allowed once per month – Article 38.7
  • Union receives employees’ name, mailing address, and phone number – Article 39.6

SEIU Local 775:

  • 15-minute union orientation at initial contracting appointment – Article 2.3
  • 30-minute union orientation at initial training – Article 15.13
  • Union has access to employer premises – Article 2.2
  • Union has bulletin board space on employer premises – Article 2.4
  • State websites required to link to union website – Article 2.5
  • Employer distributes union materials at orientations – Article 2.6
  • Union can send out flyers in state payroll envelopes – Article 2.7
  • Union receives employees’ name, mailing address, phone number (including cell), email address, date of birth, Social Security Number, and more – Article 5.1

As with several other bills working their way through the Legislature, SB 6229 and HB 2624 appear to be little more than a political payoff to one of the state’s most powerful and special-interest groups in the state.

Tell Washington legislators to oppose SB 6229/HB 2624