Freedom Foundation

Campaign finance complaints filed against two more unions

The Freedom Foundation recently filed two complaints with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) alleging two labor unions have committed serious violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA), the state law governing election spending and disclosure.

UA Local 598

The first complaint, filed against the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 598 (UA 598) in November, targets the union’s practice of forcing its members to contribute to the union’s political action committee (PAC).

Though public employees can no longer be compelled to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, private-sector employees in Washington have no such protections.

Consequently, because UA 598’s members all work for private companies, they can be required to financially support the union.

Employees represented by UA 598 must sign “dispatch forms” authorizing their employer to withhold union dues from their wages. The forms also authorize the employer to deduct 0.7 percent of the employee’s wages for UA 598’s PAC.

State law, however, protects employees’ right to make their own decisions about whether to make political contributions. RCW 42.17A.495 provides,

“(2) No employer or labor organization may discriminate against an officer or employee in the terms or conditions of employment for (a) the failure to contribute to, (b) the failure in any way to support or oppose, or (c) in any way supporting or opposing a candidate, ballot proposition, political party, or political committee. At least annually, an employee from whom wages or salary are withheld under subsection (3) of this section shall be notified of the provisions of this subsection.
(3) No employer or other person or entity responsible for the disbursement of funds in payment of wages or salaries may withhold or divert a portion of an employee’s wages or salaries for contributions to political committees or for use as political contributions except upon the written request of the employee. The request must be made on a form prescribed by the commission informing the employee of the prohibition against employer and labor organization discrimination described in subsection (2) of this section. The employee may revoke the request at any time. At least annually, the employee shall be notified about the right to revoke the request.”

UA 598 and the employers with which it has a bargaining relationship do not appear to be abiding by any of these requirements. Employees are compelled to acquiesce to the PAC deductions since the dispatch forms they must sign provide no mechanism for the employees to object to or not authorize the deductions. The forms do not contain state-mandated disclosures informing the employees of their right to not make such payments or their right to be free from discrimination for choosing to make or not make political contributions. Employees are not permitted to determine the amount to contribute to the PAC, nor are they permitted to cancel the deductions at any time. Lastly, employees are not annually informed of their rights.

In short, UA 598 has for years operated an entirely illegal scheme to seize hundreds of thousands of dollars per year from employees’ wages to use advancing the union’s political agenda.

ATU Legislative Council

Filed in December, the second complaint involves the Amalgamated Transit Union of Washington State (ATULC). Every ATU local in Washington state pays a certain “per capita tax” for every member it has to the ATULC which repeatedly describes its purpose as engaging in “political activity” and “promoting candidates.”

ATULC has no full-time staff and is simply a fund administered by ATU officials to engage in political activity in Washington state. Federal and state records indicate ATULC spends large percentages of its funds on direct political contributions.

Accordingly, ATULC meets the textbook definition of “political committee” and should therefore register as such with the PDC and disclose the contributions it receives and the expenditures it makes in compliance with state law.

However, ATULC has failed to file any disclosures of its activity with the PDC, depriving the public of important information related to the entity’s influence on Washington elections.

In both the UA 598 and ATULC cases, the PDC has 90 days to take action before the Freedom Foundation may begin the process of filing a citizen’s action lawsuit against the unions for their violations of state campaign finance laws.

The two complaints are the latest in a series of Freedom Foundation investigations into union political activity in Washington. In some cases, past investigations have resulted in the Attorney General’s office filing litigation against unions and certain nonprofit groups.

Many other cases have been ignored by the Attorney General and the PDC and are currently being litigated by the Freedom Foundation as citizens’ actions.