After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision made union dues payment optional for Medicaid-paid home caregivers, the union representing Washington state’s individual provider home care aides (IPs) pioneered a range of methods — some unethical, some illegal and all coercive — to continue deducting dues from the Medicaid payments of as many caregivers as possible.
For instance, SEIU 775 persuaded the state to automatically seize union dues from IPs’ wages without permission, only cancelling the deductions if a caregiver objected in writing. The practice was discontinued after the Freedom Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court last year on behalf of IPs who had their money unconstitutionally taken without their permission.
With Freedom Foundation assistance, another IP is taking action in federal court against SEIU 775 for forging her signature on a membership form.
Most recently, however, the Freedom Foundation filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint against SEIU 775 with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) on behalf of William Swails, a home caregiver who was illegally signed up for union membership over the phone last year.
Over the years, SEIU 775’s affiliated nonprofit, the SEIU 775 Benefits Group, has taken over management of state-funded benefits for IPs, including health insurance, training and retirement. SEIU 775’s “member resource center” (MRC) serves as the call center both for the union and for the Benefits Group. Consequently, any IP with a question about his or medical benefits or training must phone the union’s call center.
Caregivers report that, before the union staffers answer any questions, they will pressure the IP to orally reauthorize their union membership over the phone. An anonymous letter sent to the Freedom Foundation by a person claiming to work in SEIU 775’s call center detailed how staffers are directed, “under the threat of being fired, to solicit and lie to members, to record membership messages and obtain signature over the phone using deceptive way.” (Errors in original)
This is precisely what happened to Mr. Swails, who agreed to membership over the phone under the mistaken belief he had to do so to address an issue with his state-funded medical benefits.
SEIU 775’s current membership form is nearly 2,000 words of legalese. The form not only authorizes the state to deduct 3.2 percent of the IPs’ wages for SEIU 775 but makes the deductions “irrevocable” for at least one year. The terms also waive the IP’s right to sue the union for certain illegal dues collections and gives the union authorization to obtain the caregiver’s personal bank account and credit card information from the state for the purpose of collecting dues if necessary.
Mr. Swails had no idea the deductions were “irrevocable” until he attempted to cancel the unwanted deductions months later and was informed by SEIU 775 that it would continue to collect dues over his objection.
Properly understanding a written copy of SEIU 775’s membership form is difficult. It is impossible to meaningfully understand over the phone. And, as it turns out, the use of such telephonic authorizations is not currently permitted under state law.
The state’s deduction of union dues from IPs’ wages is currently governed by RCW 41.56.113(1)(a), which directs the state to collect dues “(u)pon the written authorization of an individual provider…” (Emphasis added.) No provision is made in state law for telephonic dues deduction authorizations.
Lest there be any doubt as to the legality of SEIU 775’s current practice, union-backed lawmakers in the Washington State Legislature are currently working on legislation to require government employers to collect union dues on the basis of a public employee’s “recorded voice authorization.” But that’s not the law yet and it hasn’t been at any point since the Harris decision did away with mandatory union payment obligations.
Accordingly, Mr. Swails is asking PERC to force SEIU 775 to stop further deductions from his wages and refund money already taken. He’s also requesting that SEIU 775 be required to discontinue the practice and notify all other IPs that it committed an unfair labor practice by utilizing telephonic membership authorizations.