Freedom Foundation

DSHS allowing SEIU to continue exploiting caregivers

Documents obtained by the Freedom Foundation from the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) indicate that SEIU 775 organizers continue to employ coercive and deceptive tactics to get state-paid home care aides serving Medicaid clients to sign up for union membership.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that “partial-public employees” like Washington’s individual providers (IPs) could not be forced to pay union dues as a condition of being paid to serve Medicaid clients, Gov. Jay Inslee and SEIU 775 implemented a series of countermeasures designed to keep IPs paying union dues, a hefty percentage of which the union contributes to the campaign coffers of Gov. Inslee and his political allies.

For instance, Article 2.3 of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Washington state and SEIU 775 grants union organizers a 15-minute captive-audience meeting with IPs at the start of their initial “contracting appointment” and orientation. Union organizers use the time to pressure IPs into signing membership cards authorizing the state to withhold 3.2 percent of their pay for SEIU 775 dues and contain language strictly limiting the ability of card-signers to cancel the deductions in the future.

In documents obtained by the Freedom Foundation under the Public Records Act and through additional litigation in 2017, DSHS frontline staff describe SEIU 775 organizers presenting at the IP contracting appointments as, “aggressive,” “forceful,” “rude,” “unprofessional,” “coercive,” “demanding,” and “bullying.” These same staff report caregivers feeling, “pressured,” “misled,” “tricked,” “coerced,” “intimidated” and “forced” into signing SEIU membership forms.

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

DSHS leadership responded to the incidents by directing its staff to stand down and not interfere. An email sent by Grace Kiboneka, planning and development manager in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, in the fall of 2016 advised DSHS staff to “…not be present during union presentation that way they don’t feel compelled to ask questions or provide clarification.”

In the spring of 2016, Freedom Foundation litigation on behalf of IPs forced the state and SEIU to make attendance at the union presentations voluntary instead of mandatory. However, many IPs report never being informed by DSHS that they didn’t have to attend. Recently obtained DSHS emails indicate that at least some DSHS staff actually encourage IPs to attend the union presentation.

In emails sent to at least 66 IPs last summer, an IP coordinator for DSHS wrote:

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 represents long-term care workers. This union offers benefits, such as healthcare and dental care, that you may be eligible for. I have signed you up to attend their meeting at the same address above, in the Puget Sound Room, on Monday, August 14th at 9:00 AM. This meeting is not mandatory, though we encourage you to go.

First, as even the Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU 775 has confirmed, health and dental insurance are state-funded benefits provided through the SEIU Health Benefits Trust, a separate entity from the union, regardless of an IP’s membership status with SEIU 775. Second, while the employee does acknowledge attendance at the meeting is optional, it appears the IPs are “signed up to attend” automatically and encouraged to attend by DSHS staff.

This directly violates Article 2.3(e) of SEIU 775’s CBA with the state, which provides:

Individual providers will not be required to meet with union representatives and will not suffer discrimination or retaliation as a result of their choice to meet or not to meet. The employer will remain neutral, and will not either encourage individual providers to meet or discourage them from meeting with Union representatives.

Under Gov. Inslee, the state has already proven that it won’t take action to enforce the CBA when it’s violated by SEIU 775. It’s similarly unlikely that SEIU 775 will take any action to correct this particular violation of the CBA by the state.

While some DSHS staff are complicit in providing inaccurate information to caregivers and encouraging them to join the union, recently obtained DSHS emails indicate others continue to find SEIU 775’s behavior disturbing.

In a July 27, 2017 email to DSHS staff, a Pierce County Human Services employee explained how SEIU 775 organizers were causing systemic problems for the IP contracting process:

Our staff have voiced concerns about what information SEIU reps have communicated to IPs, including concerns that IPs express feelings of being pressured to sign the union card right away and lack of full disclosure about the voluntary union contribution being a monthly contribution (rather than one time) that is in addition to their regular union dues. IPs often ask our staff questions about these issues following the SEIU presentation, which staff are unable to respond to.

Staff have also commented that after receiving the SEIU presentation it is not unusual for IPs to express frustration, confusion and sometimes anger at the contracting process, etc. which is then often directed at our staff. Staff have indicated concerns about what SEIU reps may be communicating to IPs that frequently results in IPs responding in a hostile or negative way and in turn makes the contracting process more challenging. (Errors in original)

In a July 12, 2017 email to a superior, an employee at Aging & Adult Care of Central Washington described still more troubling behavior by SEIU 775 staff:

Recently SEIU met with an IP that I was contracting – during the presentation, I had noticed that a fair amount of information he was providing the IP was incorrect (mostly training info and starting wage) however I don’t feel as if it’s permissible for me to interject.

After the IP/Union representative left, the IP asked me if there are dues associated with being a part of the union, I told her that it was my understanding that there was – at that point she wanted to opt out, I let her know that would have to be done by speaking to SEIU. The IP called SEIU today, explained to the SEIU employee that it wasn’t explained to her in regards to dues and she requested to opt out of the union. She was told that her job would be at risk if she indeed made the decision to opt out, that the union could not guarantee she would continue to have a job and so on. She expressed numerous times that she was treated incredibly rude.

This is the second concern within this last month regarding how IP’s have been spoken to, just wanted to make you aware of these concerns. (Errors in original)

Nevertheless, the state’s political alliance with SEIU 775 means it won’t lift a finger to put a stop to the union’s abuse of home caregivers, many of whom just want to take care of a loved one.

In private sector labor relations, where unions do not get to elect the person they bargain with, a genuinely adversarial relationship helps keep both labor and management in check. But in government, where unions spend lavishly to elect their preferred bargaining partners, this balance is nowhere to be found. Instead, unions and government join together to keep employees paying union dues at any cost, since both unions and the politicians they elect rely on the same source of public funds for their existence.

The losers in this corrupt bargain are Washington’s caregivers.